Supreme Court Refuses Louisiana’s Emergency Request to Reinstate Sex Offender ID Law

Supreme Court Refuses Louisiana’s Emergency Request to Reinstate Sex Offender ID Law
The Supreme Court in Washington, on Nov. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Matthew Vadum

The Supreme Court turned down an emergency request from Louisiana urging it to freeze a state Supreme Court ruling that struck down a requirement that a sex offender’s status be announced in large letters on state-issued identification, while the state pursues an appeal of the decision.

The unsigned refusal-of-stay decision came late on Dec. 30, 2020, in a case known as Louisiana v. Hill. The Supreme Court didn’t explain why it denied the emergency application, which began in front of Justice Samuel Alito but was then referred to the full court. The state previously indicated that it intended at some point to file a petition for certiorari with the high court, which is the usual way a party initiates an appeal to the court.
According to the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s website, the respondent in the Supreme Court proceeding, Tazin Ardell Hill, 43, now residing in Duson, Louisiana, was convicted in Louisiana on June 25, 2010, of having “carnal knowledge of a juvenile.” He was released from prison on Nov. 25, 2013.

Hill cut out the words “SEX OFFENDER” that appeared in orange capital letters from his ID card that he’s required to carry with him. The state charged him with altering an official identification card to conceal his designation as a registered sex offender, contrary to state law.

Reinstating the law pending appeal was important, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, a Republican, said when his office filed the state’s emergency application Dec. 11. He said if the Supreme Court failed to grant the stay, “sex offenders in Louisiana will be able to move unnoticed through our communities.”
The state’s brief said the law should be reinstated pending appeal because “the danger is not theoretical. Children die when recidivistic sex offenders hide their status.”

“Under the Louisiana Supreme Court’s decision, both law enforcement and the public will lack an essential tool for identifying sex offenders in the community who violate the law by, for example, visiting schools or parks, volunteering as a teacher, renting in an area where the individual is not legally permitted to live, coaching youth sports or volunteering at YMCA, or otherwise interacting with children.

“Online registries are insufficient to protect the State’s interests in those contexts because people can easily give a false name and deny their status.”

Before that, on Oct. 30, 2019, a state district court quashed the state’s bill of information against Hill, finding that the law at issue was unconstitutional on its face. Opponents of the law had characterized it as forcing an offender to wear a “scarlet letter” that needlessly humiliates the individual.

“The requirement that the offender have ‘sex offender’ written on his official state identification is not the least restrictive way to further the State’s legitimate interest of notifying law enforcement,” that court stated. “It could be accomplished in the same way that some other states utilize. Louisiana could use more discreet labels in the form of codes that are known to law enforcement.”

The Supreme Court of Louisiana agreed, ruling 6–1 on Oct. 20, 2020, that the state law compelled speech, in violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Louisiana’s sex-offender registration rules differ from those enforced by other states and the federal government, according to the majority opinion, written by Justice James T. Genovese, an elected Republican.

The Pelican State’s “specific requirement to carry a branded identification card distinguishes Louisiana from the rest of the country,” Genovese wrote. “Forty-one other states do not require any designation on the identification cards of sex offenders.”

“The branded identification card is compelled speech, and it is a content-based regulation of speech that consequently must pass strict scrutiny,” the justice wrote. “While the state certainly has a compelling interest in protecting the public and enabling law enforcement to identify a person as a sex offender, Louisiana has not adopted the least restrictive means of doing so.

“A symbol, code, or a letter designation would inform law enforcement that they are dealing with a sex offender and thereby reduce the unnecessary disclosure to others during everyday tasks,” he wrote, adding that the sex offender registry and notification is already “available to those who have a need to seek out that information.”

Justice William J. Crain, also a Republican, filed a dissenting opinion.

The “speech at issue ... is not First Amendment-protected speech,” he wrote.

“The speaker is the government: the words are stamped by a governmental agency on a government-issued identification card in accordance with a government-enacted statute. ... Any reasonable observer ... would readily ascertain the speaker is the government, not the defendant.”

Louisiana Solicitor General Elizabeth Baker Murrill told The Epoch Times in an email, “We are disappointed that the Court did not grant the stay. We intend to expedite filing a petition for certiorari and will continue to defend this law, a law which performs an important function of providing critical information to the public about convicted sex offenders.”

Hill’s counsel of record, Richard John Bourke, declined to comment to The Epoch Times.