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Albuquerque’s Regulation Banning Sex Offenders from Public Libraries Held Unconstitutional

In a courageous ruling, the Hon. M. Christina Armijo, U.S. District Judge for the District of New Mexico, granted the motion for summary judgment of plaintiff John Doe, a registered sex offender in the State of New Mexico, with respect to his complaint that the City of Albuquerque’s regulation banning all registered sex offenders from its public libraries infringes upon his First Amendment right to receive information.

In March 2008, the City of Albuquerque officially banned registered sex offenders from using and/or entering any of its public libraries. It sent notices to all sex offenders holding library cards (including John Doe), informing them of the ban, which by its express terms mandates enforcement by state and local police, as well as other law enforcement agencies.

Facing a credible threat of prosecution if he attempted to access any of the City’s public libraries, in October 2008, John Doe filed a complaint in state court for declaratory and injunctive relief, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the New Mexico Declaratory Judgment Act, alleging violations of his state and federal constitutional rights.

The City removed the complaint to federal court, then moved to have the matter dismissed, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), for failure to state a cognizable claim for relief. That motion was denied in September 2009.

In May 2009, while the motion to dismiss was still pending, John Doe filed a motion for summary judgment, mounting a facial First Amendment challenge to Albuquerque’s regulation banning sex offenders from accessing any of its public libraries.
Canvassing the Supreme Court’s First Amendment cases, the Court found that the right to receive information was first identified in Martin v. City of Struthers, Ohio, 319 U.S. 141 (1943), and later deemed “fundamental to our free society” in Stanley v. Georgia, 394 U.S. 557, 564 (1969).

Turning next to the appropriate level of scrutiny, the Court concluded that “a regulation directly limiting a protected First Amendment right [to receive information in a designated public forum such as a public library] must be narrowly tailored to serve a compelling governmental interest, and must also leave ample alternative channels for the communication of ideas.” The regulation at issue, the Court held, was not sufficiently “narrowly tailored” because, while the City unquestionably possesses a significant interest in protecting children from crime in general -- and sex offenders in particular -- the “targeted evil” was more precisely identifiable by time (3-5 p.m.), day (weekdays), location (libraries near schools), and offender (adult males). As written, the Court held, the regulation swept much too broadly. See: Doe v. City of Albuquerque (U.S.D.C., D.N.M.), Case No. 1:08-cv-01041-MCA-LFG, filed 3/31/10.

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Related legal case

Doe v. City of Albuquerque