SAN FRANCISCO -- A day after California voters approved Proposition 35, a federal judge on Wednesday temporarily blocked the new law's requirement that the state's 73,000 registered sex offenders must immediately give police a list of their online screen names and Internet service providers.
U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson issued the temporary restraining order in San Francisco in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed this morning by two registered offenders and a nonprofit group.
The temporary order will remain in effect until a Nov. 20 hearing on whether Henderson should grant a longer-term preliminary injunction against the disclosure requirement.
Henderson wrote in a four-page order, "The court finds the plaintiffs have raised serious questions about whether the challenged sections of (the law) violate their First Amendment right to free speech and other constitutional rights."
Proposition 35, the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act, was approved by 81 percent of voters in Tuesday's election, according to the secretary of state's office.
In addition to mandating that registered offenders must report their Internet information, it increases prison sentences and fines for people convicted of sex trafficking.
The plaintiffs are challenging only the disclosure requirement, which they claim infringes on their free-speech right to express their views on law reform and other topics anonymously.
The registered offenders who filed the lawsuit used the pseudonyms of John Doe, described as a 75-year-old Alameda man, and Jack Roe, described as a former California resident who wants to return to the state.
They were joined in the lawsuit by a group called California Reform Sex Offender Laws, which says it believes that no sexual abuse is ever acceptable, but that laws should be based on sound research and common sense.
The plaintiffs are represented by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The defendants are California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who is responsible for defending state laws, and the city of Alameda.
Henderson noted in the order that a lawyer from Harris' office said during a telephone hearing this afternoon that the state would not be in a position to enforce the law until March.
He set a schedule for the two sides to file briefs during the week leading up to the Nov. 20 hearing, and also said Proposition 35's sponsors could apply for court permission to become official parties in the case to help defend it.