Texas rules barring some sex offenders from using certain websites were thrown into jeopardy Monday morning after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a similar statute in North Carolina violates the First Amendment.

The case, North Carolina v. Packingham, centered on a North Carolina rule that prevents sex offenders from using social networking sites where children may also be members. Texas also restricts the websites that offenders released on parole or under mandatory supervision are allowed to use.

Robert Hurst, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said in a statement that the department is evaluating the impact of the ruling on its “supervision populations.”

While the Texas rules were not directly at play in the suit, Attorney General Ken Paxton was one of 13 state attorneys general to sign a brief to the high court defending the North Carolina law.

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“The problem is that social media is a dangerous place for children and that registered sex offenders disproportionately commit additional sex crimes online,” the attorneys general wrote. Paxton's office declined to comment on Monday. 

Still, the Supreme Court was unconvinced, ruling Monday that the North Carolina law “impermissibly restricts lawful speech in violation of the First Amendment.”

Mary Sue Molnar, the executive director of Texas Voices for Reason and Justice, a group that advocates for more relaxed penalties for sex offenders, praised the ruling.

“Even though someone committed a crime, once they’ve served their sentence, just like any other person who’s committed any other type of crime, there needs to be a process where they can move forward,” she said. “It’s almost impossible in this day and age to make your way through life without social media.”

Along with barring sex offenders from using certain websites, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice also restricts prisoners from having personal pages on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram run in their name by others. Hurst wrote that the ruling will not affect those restrictions.

“The ruling does not have an impact on incarcerated offenders,” he wrote.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has decided that prison inmates should not be allowed to have active social media accounts, even if friends or family on the outside run them. [Full story]

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