Victory! In a landmark ruling on local ordinances that are designed to banish sex offenders, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on August 28, 2015 struck down a sex offender residency ordinance in the city of Lynn. In a case brought by the ACLU of Massachusetts and the Committee for Public Counsel Services in 2012, the Court deemed these restrictions unlawful, unsafe and ineffective, and the ruling will have the effect of invalidating roughly 40 similar ordinances in communities across the state.

The Court ruled that blanket restrictions on where sex offenders can live are unlawful, violating the Massachusetts Home Rule Amendment, which allows the Legislature to have the "first and final word" on such matters. But because these restrictions effectively banish sex offenders from entire communities, the Court went further, drawing comparisons to internment camps, writing, "the days are long since past when whole communities of persons, such as Native Americans and Japanese-Americans may be lawfully banished from our midst."

The Court also recognized that when lawmakers created the state sex offender registry, the Legislature chose a path meant to protect the public. Ordinances like Lynn's—which can render sex offenders homeless, by putting entire cities and towns off limits—stand in the way of that intent: "[I]nsofar as the ordinance effects a wholesale displacement of sex offenders from their residences, it frustrates the purpose of the registry law…."

The ruling comes as part of a growing national trend, in which high courts and officials in states such as New York and California have rejected similar restrictions.

The case was formerly known as Three Registered Sex Offenders v. City of Lynn.


Jessie Rossman (ACLU of Massachusetts), John Reinstein, Benjamin Keehn