WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group)
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is representing individuals in Kentucky, Maine and Maryland who argue that the governors in those states have violated the First Amendment by deleting comments and blocking users on the governors' Facebook and Twitter pages.
The plaintiffs in each case argue that they were shut out of a public political forum because they had been critical of the governors' policies or expressed views were at odds with their state's chief executive. By blocking comments and users, the plaintiffs say their governor has violated their right to free speech and their right to petition the government for redress of grievances.
One of the issues at stake is whether public figures can use their social media accounts to sanction other users based private preferences. More fundamentally the cases could determine whether political speech is protected in the social media age.
"In this new world of social media, government officials and constituents are using these platforms as a powerful tool to connect with each other," said Meagan Sway, Justice Fellow with the Maine ACLU chapter. "But when that happens, the First Amendment applies."
Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) has been accused of using his Facebook account in an official government capacity to conduct official government business. He has also taken advantage of the platform's features to block certain constituents. According to the ACLU, "that's unconstitutional censorship."
The arguments are similar in Kentucky and Maryland, where numerous constituents have come forward to challenge the 21st century version of being banished from the public commons. In Utah, the ACLU has put the state's federal congressional delegation on notice after similar complaints from constituents.
Already, experts anticipate the cases in Kentucky, Maine and Maryland will shape the environment for the high-profile case involving President Donald Trump blocking Twitter users.
The Knight First Amendment Institute filed suit against the president in June arguing it is unconstitutional for an elected public official using a "designated public forum," like Twitter, to block speech just because it is critical or disagreeable.
"It's a new area of law," Sway said in an interview with WGME News. "We think courts will agree with us ... that this is an open platform, that the government cannot kick people off just because [they] dont agree with them."
Roy Gutterman, director of the Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University, said the pending social media cases beg for a "firm declaration" from the courts that blocking political speech on social media a violation of the First Amendment.
"If you're a government official, your social media is an extension of your office and you cant block people for innocuous reasons, or for political reasons" he emphasized. "If you're a government official, especially a governor, I don't think you can bifurcate your personal speech from your official speech."
In Maine, LePage has worked to do just that and distance his official position from his official social media accounts.
A few weeks ago, the governor's "about" page on Facebook was updated. It now states that the page is "official-but not managed by gov't officials," was a fan page but is now home to LePage supporters. However, the page was verified on behalf of the governor and LePage even opted into Facebook's "Town Hall" feature, which helps connect constituents and their government representatives.
Shortly after taking office in 2015, Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland set up Facebook and Twitter accounts and by January 2017, Hogan had reportedly blocked 450 people.
"He didnt like [the posts], but thats not enough," Legal Director for ACLU Maryland Deborah Jeon told WBFF earlier this month. "People have a First-Amendment right to their own opinions. And when the governor establishes a forum for speech between constituents and the government, then he has to listen to what they have to say, whether or not he likes it."
The governor never responded to the ACLU's letter asking him to reinstate the seven individuals banned.
Hogan reacted to the lawsuit saying it was "frivolous" and motivated by partisan politics.
"Its silly, its ridiculous," Hogan told reporters last week. "We have about a million people a week on our Facebook page. Four of them were blocked for violating our Facebook policy and now the Maryland Democratic party got them to file suit with the ACLU."
The governor has defended blocking constituents on the basis of his office's "social media policy," which ACLU claims violates the state's social media policy. Under Hogan's personal policy, comments and users can be blocked if they are deemed irrelevant to the governor's announcements or initiatives, and if the users engage in a "Coordinated Effort" to petition the office. The office claims the right to block users and comments "at any time without prior notice or without providing justification."
"I don't buy that argument," he noted, adding that such arguments get into "untested" legal areas. "This is public business. This is clearly a first amendment issue with political speech implications and the right to petition government."
In Kentucky, Gov. Matt Bevin has argued that the only comments or users being blocked are "abusive trolls" and others who are posting obscene or inappropriate content.
"Gov. Bevin is a strong advocate of constructive dialogue," his communications directed said responding to the ACLU suit. "Blocking individuals from engaging in ... inappropriate conduct on social media in no way violates their free speech right under the U.S. or Kentucky constitutions, nor does it prohibit them from expressing their opinion in an open forum."
According to the plaintiffs, there are "hundreds" of users who have been permanently blocked by Bevin, including "Kentuckians Against Matt Bevin," a public Facebook group with over 1,900 followers.
One of the plaintiffs in the case, Mary Hargis, noted that while she has been critical of the governor on certain issues she was "shocked" to discover he had blocked her. "I may not have voted for Governor Bevin, but I'm one of his constituents," she said. "He shouldn't be permanently dismissing my views and concerns with a click."
As these suits are litigated and President Trump squares off against his blocked Twitter followers, it is unclear how the courts will rule, though U.S. courts tend to rule firmly in favor of protecting political speech.
"If these cases keep getting litigated and appealed ... I can actually see the Supreme Court weighing in on this a year or two down the road," Gutterman suggested. "I think it would be a soft ball."
Just recently the Court handed down its first major decision on a social media case in June, ruling unanimously that the First Amendment protected an individual from being refused access to social media. The question before the court was whether a convicted sex offender could be blocked from Facebook , Twitter and other popular social media sites.
The Supreme Court ruling is likely to provide a strong argument for the plaintiffs as the Facebook blocking cases move forward.
"Political speech ... has always been the highest level of First Amendment activity," Gutterman stated. "There's clear First Amendment action here. You've got government activity, government action and citizen expression."
Read more from the original source:
First Amendment lawsuits pile up against governors who block ... - WJLA
- Op-ed: Did the University forget about the first amendment? - The Michigan Daily - January 18th, 2020
- Facebooks Soleimani Ban Flies in Face of First Amendment - Common Dreams - January 18th, 2020
- Trump Takes Steps to Protect the Right to Pray in Schools - CNSNews.com - January 18th, 2020
- Breaking down the first amendment lawsuit against Florida State Representative Spencer Roach - Fox 4 - January 18th, 2020
- 10 years later, Americans stand opposed to Citizens United | TheHill - The Hill - January 18th, 2020
- Letter: It's the First Amendment that needs sanctuary protection - Verde Independent - January 18th, 2020
- Merrill, St. Germain take different approaches on 2nd Amendment Sanctuary status - WJFW-TV - January 18th, 2020
- David L. Hudson Jr. | The 'bedrock principle' of the First Amendment - TribDem.com - January 7th, 2020
- Executive Order on Anti-Semitism Could Suppress First-Amendment-Protected Criticism of Israel - Reason - January 7th, 2020
- Pro/Con: Can elected officials block you on social media? Yes, the Constitution can't be applied to private tweets - Duluth News Tribune - January 7th, 2020
- How Fascism Works with Jason Stanley; Plus: How the Supreme Court is Weaponizing the First Amendment - KPFA - 94.1FM - January 7th, 2020
- Five Years Later, We Still Havent Learned from the Charlie Hebdo Massacre - National Review - January 7th, 2020
- Accountability For Constitutional Violations Likely Has To Start With The Trivial - Above the Law - January 7th, 2020
- A Stunning Vote Reversal in a Controversial First Amendment Case - The Atlantic - December 18th, 2019
- Attorney John Borger, 68, longtime legal champion of the media, dies at 68 - Minneapolis Star Tribune - December 18th, 2019
- Did Schiff Poke a Hole in the First Amendment? - The New York Times - December 18th, 2019
- New Leader Of First Amendment Foundation Ready To Tackle Public Records And Fake News - WFSU - December 18th, 2019
- Supreme Court to hear Native American criminal procedure case and First Amendment question for foreign entities - JURIST - December 18th, 2019
- EFF Report Shows FBI Is Failing to Address First Amendment Harms Caused By National Security Letters - EFF - December 18th, 2019
- A Judge Temporarily Protects the NRA's First Amendment Rights - America's 1st Freedom - December 18th, 2019
- 5th Circuit judge has 'judicial change of heart' in case that could chill protests - ABA Journal - December 18th, 2019
- Attacker Causes Epileptic Seizure over the Internet - Security Boulevard - December 18th, 2019
- Trump antisemitism executive order sets up First Amendment battle - The Jerusalem Post - December 11th, 2019
- Religion news, the First Amendment and BBQ: GetReligion will soon have a new home base - GetReligion - December 11th, 2019
- W&M professor's new book examines the First Amendment in the Trump era - WYDaily - December 11th, 2019
- Nelson County board joins dozens of others to become a 2nd Amendment sanctuary - WHSV - December 11th, 2019
- Violent Protests and Free Speech: Whos to Blame for an Officers Injuries? - The New York Times - December 11th, 2019
- Mississippi Public Universities receive recognition for protecting free speech | The University of Southern Mississippi - Southern Miss Now - December 11th, 2019
- If There Are No Obama Judges or Trump Judges, Does the Constitution Permit Delaware to - Justia Verdict - December 11th, 2019
- First Amendment rights in the 2010s - UConn Daily Campus - December 8th, 2019
- State argues there is no First Amendment issue in Michelle Carter case - The Sun Chronicle - December 8th, 2019
- Zick's new book examines the First Amendment in the Trump era - William & Mary News - December 8th, 2019
- First Amendment Loses as Pipeline Industry Scores Another Win in Wisconsin - In These Times - December 8th, 2019
- A Phone-Sex Memoir Tests the Limits of Free Speech Rights - Bloomberg - December 8th, 2019
- Texas wants teacher Georgia Clark reinstated after firing over tweets - The Texas Tribune - December 8th, 2019
- Gun Rights Case Is First Before The Supreme Court In A Decade - NPR - December 8th, 2019
- Curt Levey: Trump impeachment drives Democrats' love of Constitution here's how they really feel - Fox News - December 8th, 2019
- The First Amendment is the First Line of Defense - AmmoLand Shooting Sports News - November 30th, 2019
- Want to protect First Amendment? Then maintain Second Amendment - theday.com - November 30th, 2019
- Inmate video visitation and the First Amendment: 3 landmines to avoid - CorrectionsOne - November 30th, 2019
- The Supreme Court is about to hear its biggest gun-control case in a decade - CNBC - November 30th, 2019
- Free-speech controversies not exclusive to the UI - Champaign/Urbana News-Gazette - November 30th, 2019
- The Race 2020 How terrorism started and how it's evolved Scripps National 9:55 AM, Nov - 10News - November 30th, 2019
- The holiday season is a lot bigger than you think - Herald Palladium - November 30th, 2019
- Ava DuVernay and Netflix Formally Respond to When They See Us Lawsuit, Claim Dialogue Is Protected Under First Amendment - The Root - November 30th, 2019
- Yes, Mr. Pokoski, there really is a Santa Claus(e.) - Seacoastonline.com - November 30th, 2019
- Does the First Amendment Hold at the Border? - The Atlantic - November 25th, 2019
- Nonwhites are the only high school students whose support for First Amendment has fallen: survey - The College Fix - November 25th, 2019
- Artful Teachers Teach First Amendment Thinking - Forbes - November 25th, 2019
- The First Amendment and Government Property: Free Speech Rules (Episode 8) - Reason - November 25th, 2019
- Activists say new harassment law tramples on the first amendment' - WXXI News - November 25th, 2019
- Government Tries to Regulate Drug Prices by Violating the First Amendment - Cato Institute - November 25th, 2019
- Judicial appointment a foe of the First Amendment - Daily American Online - November 25th, 2019
- 'No Safe Spaces' Documentary Warns of Dangers Facing First Amendment Rights in America - Accuracy in Academia - November 25th, 2019
- Indian Constitution: First amendment, and the last - Deccan Herald - November 25th, 2019
- Nobel laureate Smith to speak on boycotts and First Amendment - Columbia Daily Tribune - November 25th, 2019
- Florida Man Friday Saves the First Amendment | VodkaPundit - PJ Media - November 25th, 2019
- BU protesters were exercising their First Amendment rights - Binghamton University Pipe Dream - November 25th, 2019
- Happenings on the Hill - Preston Hollow People - November 25th, 2019
- Governor of Alaska: My state will be the first to comply with SCOTUS' new union ruling. - USA TODAY - November 25th, 2019
- Overington recognizes Edgars with First Amendment Recognition Award - Martinsburg Journal - November 25th, 2019
- Smith County School System sued over first amendment violations, promotion of religion - WBIR.com - November 25th, 2019
- Mary Beth Tinker to high school journalists: It's your job to speak up on behalf of others - Student Press Law Center - November 25th, 2019
- Florida education news: First Amendment rights, flu shots and another superintendents struggles - Tampa Bay Times - November 16th, 2019
- First Amendment rights are not a one-way street - The Bozeman Daily Chronicle - November 16th, 2019
- First Amendment conference explored diminishing local news as a 'crisis of democracy' - The Daily Tar Heel - November 16th, 2019
- The 'Evil' First Amendment - The American Conservative - November 16th, 2019
- First Amendment website launching by end of November - University Star - November 16th, 2019
- LTTE: We all have business exercising our First Amendment rights - Rocky Mountain Collegian - November 16th, 2019
- Trump Attack on Envoy During Testimony Raises Charges of Witness Intimidation - The New York Times - November 16th, 2019
- Facebook has a political fake news problem. Can we fix it without eroding the First Amendment? - NBC News - October 27th, 2019
- The Panhandling Problem: When public safety clashes with the 1st Amendment - WCJB - October 27th, 2019
- Can a black high school guard be fired for quoting the n-word? | TheHill - The Hill - October 27th, 2019
- The Case Against Free Speech: The First Amendment, Fascism, and the Future of Dissent - The Humanist - October 27th, 2019
- Liz Cheney Calls Out Dems' New House Bill Intended to 'Circumvent the First Amendment' - Townhall - October 27th, 2019
- Mitch McConnell slams election-security bill as 'transparent attack on the First Amendment' - The Washington TImes - October 27th, 2019
- Are Corporate Employees Protected by the First Amendment? - IPWatchdog.com - August 25th, 2017
- NAACP asks for meeting with Goodell over Colin Kaepernick's First Amendment rights - CBSSports.com - August 25th, 2017
- The ACLU was practicing a core First Amendment duty - Washington Post - August 25th, 2017
- Letter: The right has hijacked the First Amendment to preach hate ... - INFORUM - August 25th, 2017