By LORI PILGER
A federal judge has struck down (PDF) parts of Nebraska's new sex offender laws, which would have made it a crime for some offenders to use social networking sites and require them all to notify the state whenever they post on the Internet.
Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf said it wasn't his prerogative to second-guess Nebraska's policy judgments, so long as they are within constitutional parameters.
And he earlier upheld parts of the state's new sex offender registration laws despite personally believing them to be "both wrongheaded and counterproductive."
But, Kopf said, "for three sections of Nebraska's new sex offender registry law, Nebraska has violently swerved from that path."
Specifically would have:
- made it illegal for sex offenders whose crimes were against children to use social networking sites, instant messaging or chat rooms;
- required all sex offenders to subject themselves to searches and monitoring of their computers and cell phones; and
- to tell the government every time they posted on Internet sites or blogs.
The laws, the most recent changes to the state's Sex Offender Registration Act, were passed in 2009 but put on hold as a result of the lawsuit before they were to go into effect in 2010.
It was sex offenders themselves who sued. At a trial before Kopf in July, they testified one after another about how the changes would impact them and, in many cases, their work.
On Thursday, Omaha attorney Stu Dornan, whose firm represented the men and women challenging the laws as John and Jane Doe, hailed this week's ruling, saying the laws had left people on the Nebraska Sex Offender Registry unsure whether they could text or email family members or even turn on a computer.
He said Kopf's ruling upheld the Constitution as a document that protects even sex offenders, who are viewed by many Nebraskans, as Kopf said in his order, as the lepers of the 21st century.
"The Constitution, if it does not protect this group of people, it does not protect any of us," Dornan said.