Supreme Court to decide if First Amendment stops government officials from blocking social media critics


The Supreme Court said Monday it would consider whether the First Amendment prevents social media users from being blocked from commenting on personal pages that government officials use to communicate actions related to their office.

The judges said they were dealing with two cases regarding the issue: a lawsuit filed against local school district officials in California and another against a city manager in Michigan.

Appeals courts have established different tests to determine whether preventing a social media user from commenting on a government official’s personal social media page amounts to unconstitutional state action restricting freedom of speech. expression in a public forum.

The court will consider the matter after previously dismissing as moot a case involving former President Donald Trump’s decision to block Twitter users who criticized him and his policies.

The case will be heard next school year.

In the case of California, O’Connor-Ratcliff v. garnier, two local school district officials are pressing judges to overturn an appeal ruling that they violated the First Amendment by blocking voters from posting on their personal social media pages, which school district officials also use to communicate updates related to their work.

Their opponents, parents of local district students, argue that the First Amendment — and its protections prohibiting government action against speeches in public forums based on the viewpoint of the speech — should apply to voter comments. published on the managers’ social media pages. .

School officials noted in their petition with the Supreme Court that while they used their personal accounts to post content related to their school district duties, their social media pages were not created in conjunction with their work and the school district did not no control over their personal accounts.

They also argued that their reasons for blocking commenters were content-neutral and based on the repetitive nature of the comments.

The Michigan case, Lindke versus Freed, was brought to before the Supreme Court by a resident of Port Huron, Michigan, who was blocked from commenting on a city manager’s personal Facebook page. The city manager was using his personal page to post updates on the city’s response to Covid-19.

The resident is seeking the reversal of an appeal ruling that denied his First Amendment claims and found that the city manager was not engaging in state action when he prevented the voter from comment on his Facebook page. The appeals court reached this conclusion because the Facebook page was connected to the city manager’s personal account, rather than managed by the city manager’s office.

Both cases featured a so-called split circuit when the First Amendment prevents a government official from blocking social media users from commenting on their personal pages.

In the Michigan case, the 6th United States Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the blocking feature is only unconstitutional if the feature is used as part of the page owner’s official duties or if the the official’s government duties required him to operate the social media page.

The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, in the California case, took a more holistic view. He said a government official’s personal social media page could be considered a public forum — and covered by First Amendment prohibitions against certain state actions restricting public speaking — if the owner of the page was using page to communicate about his official duties.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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