Date Filed: June 19, 2017
Case #: 15-1194
KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which GINSBURG, BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. ALITO, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and THOMAS, J., joined. GORSUCH, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
Full Text Opinion: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/16pdf/15-1194_08l1.pdf
CONSTITUTIONAL LAW: Under the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, North Carolina’s law making it a felony for a registered sex offender to access commonplace social media websites is unconstitutionally invalid because it suppresses lawful speech as a mean to suppress unlawful speech.
Respondent passed a law making it a felony for a registered sex offender to access commercial social media websites, such as Facebook and Twitter. Petitioner, a registered sex offender, had a parking ticket dismissed against him in state court. In response, Petitioner posted on Facebook under a pseudonym. A police officer saw the post and confirmed that it was Petitioner by checking court records and obtaining further evidence via a search warrant. Petitioner was indicted by a grand jury and the trial court denied Petitioner’s motion to dismiss on the grounds that the statute violated the First Amendment. Petitioner was subsequently convicted, but his prison sentence was suspended. Respondent never brought any allegation claiming that Petitioner had contacted a minor or performed any other illicit act while on the internet. Petitioner then appealed to the Court of Appeals of North Carolina which reversed determining that the statute violated the First Amendment and failed strict scrutiny review. The North Carolina Supreme Court reversed finding the statute was “constitutional in all respects.” Petitioners then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court which granted certiorari to decide “whether the law is permissible under the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause, applicable to the States under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” The Court determined that the statute was invalid. Using the precedent in Ashcroft, the Court reasoned that the law was overly broad in that it suppressed lawful speech as a means of suppressing unlawful speech. REVERSED and REMANDED.
[Summarized by: Grant Elder]
Date Filed: June 19, 2017
Case #: 15–1293
ALITO, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II, and III–A, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and KENNEDY, GINSBURG, BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined, and in which THOMAS, J., joined except for Part II, and an opinion with respect to Parts III–B, III–C, and IV, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and THOMAS and BREYER, JJ., joined. KENNEDY, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which GINSBURG, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. GORSUCH, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
Full Text Opinion: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/16pdf/15-1293_1o13.pdf
FIRST AMENDMENT: The disparagement clause of 15 U. S. C. §1052(a), which forbids the registration of trademarks containing possible “disparage . . . or bring . . . into contemp[t] or disrepute” to any “persons,” is viewpoint regulation of private speech that fails First Amendment scrutiny.
Respondent’s trademark application was denied by Petitioner, the Patent and Trademark Office, because it contained an historically racially offensive slur: “The Slants.” Petitioner cited to 15 U. S. C. §1052(a) (the “Disparagement Clause”), which forbids the registration of trademarks containing possible “disparage . . . or bring . . . into contemp[t] or disrepute” to any “persons.” The Federal Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the Disparagement Clause facially violated the First Amendment, because it regulates expressive conduct in a manner that does not satisfy strict scrutiny. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed. The Court, by majority, determined that trademarks are private speech and not government speech, because Petitioner does not create the content that it reviews in trademark registrations. The Court also noted that once the trademark is registered, Petitioner is prohibited from removing the trademark based on viewpoint. The remainder of the Court’s analyses regarding other narrow doctrines of the First Amendment (including: government subsidy doctrine, government program doctrine, public forum doctrine, and commercial speech doctrine) were split four to four, but the full Court concurred in judgment that the Disparagement Clause would not pass the scrutiny required by any of the doctrines argued. AFFIRMED.