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Court upholds sex-offender disclosure law

The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a constitutional challenge to New Jersey's Megan's Law, which requires authorities to tell communities the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders.

The court turned down an appeal by sex offenders and left intact the notification provisions of the law, enacted by New Jersey in 1995 and adopted by 36 other states since.Lawyers for sex offenders had argued that the disputed provisions violate the Fifth Amendment's protection against being punished twice for the same crime because such notice, and the public reaction it generates, amounts to punishment.

The justices also turned down a counter-appeal by New Jersey over the opportunities sex offenders must get to question the risk classifications prosecutors give them, the key to how much community notice is provided.

Monday's action, taken without comment, was not a ruling and did not preclude the possibility the court might some day fully review and disapprove of such a notification measure. But survival of the prototype law against the first constitutional challenge to reach the Supreme Court is a huge legal victory for proponents of such measures.

Community notifications began in New Jersey last month.

Megan's Law is named for Megan Kanka, a 7-year-old who was raped and murdered in 1994 by a twice-convicted sex offender who lived across the street from her. Jesse Timmendequas has been sentenced to death for the crime.

In other actions, the court:

- Refused to shield federal law enforcement agents from a civil rights lawsuit growing out of a deadly siege at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, six years ago. The justices, without comment, rejected an appeal filed on behalf of nine FBI and U.S. Marshal employees being sued by Kevin Harris, who was wounded.

- Agreed to review requirements Colorado once imposed on petitioning for ballot initiatives. The court voted to review lower courts' rulings that said the Colorado regulations, which supporters claim are aimed at reducing the likelihood of fraud, violated free-speech and could not be enforced.

- Rejected a free-speech challenge to a ban on T-shirt sales on the national Mall and at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. The justices, without comment, let stand a National Park Service ban on such T-shirt sales that took effect last August.

- Allowed television and radio advertising in nine Western states for state-licensed gambling casinos, despite a federal law that bans such ads. The justices rejected a Clinton administration appeal and let stand a federal appeals court ruling that struck down the federal ad ban.