Volume 96, No 2, Spring 2024
By Jay Kaplan [PDF]

Does the Bill of Rights protect convicted felons who have completed their punishment? Generally, yes—so long as they are American citizens or resident aliens. While one might reasonably claim that this is undesirable as a matter of public policy, “the Constitution disables the government from employing certain means to prevent, deter, or detect . . . crime.” For example, to prohibit an exercise of First Amendment rights as a means of preventing an unlawful abuse of those rights would be an impermissible prior restraint. Following this principle, in 2017, the Supreme Court held that a North Carolina law prohibiting convicted sex offenders who have completed their sentences from accessing social media websites violates the First Amendment. In doing so, the Court stated that it was “unsettling to suggest” that the government could limit sex offenders who have completed their sentence to use of only certain websites. And while North Carolina asserted that the law furthered its interest in protecting minors from sexual abuse, the Court reminded North Carolina that “the government ‘may not suppress lawful speech as the means to suppress unlawful speech.’”