Texas Attorney General Unblocks Twitter Users Who Sued Him; Still Blocking Others

from the that's-not-how-this-works dept

It seems by now that public officials should know that they cannot block critics on social media if they are using their social media accounts for official business. This was thoroughly established the Knight v. Trump case, where the court made it clear that if (1) a public official is (2) using social media (3) for official purposes (4) to create a space of open dialogue (and all four of those factors are met) then they cannot block people from following them based on the views those users express, as it violates the 1st Amendment. Yet over and over again elected officials seem to ignore this.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was sued over this, as was Marjorie Taylor Greene (both of them eventually settled and agreed to unblock people).

Last month, controversy prone Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was sued over the same thing (again by the Knight First Amendment Institute). As the lawsuit notes, many of the people Paxton blocked found themselves in that situation after they replied to Paxton by reminding him of the still ongoing criminal charges he’s been facing his entire time in office. Basically, if you remind Paxton of the fact that he’s facing criminal charges, you had a decent shot at getting blocked.

However, last week, Paxton unblocked the 9 users who sued him, perhaps realizing he was clearly going to lose this case. Of course, it looks like he only removed the blocks on those 9 individuals and kept up the blocks on others. Law professor Steve Vladeck (who is at the University of Texas Law School) noted that he’s still blocked, even if the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are not:

Vladeck is (of course) correct. The whole point of this is that public officials cannot block anyone from their official accounts like this. If he’s just unblocked the people who sued them, that means anyone blocked will have to go through the costly and time consuming process of suing to get unblocked, and that’s not how it’s supposed to work either.

It seems pretty clear that the lawyers in the case recognize that Paxton isn’t really doing what he is required to do under the 1st Amendment:

?We?re pleased that Attorney General Paxton has agreed to unblock our plaintiffs in this lawsuit and are hopeful that he will do the same for anyone else he has blocked from his Twitter account simply because he doesn?t like what they have to say,? said Katie Fallow, a senior staff attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute.

Anyone taking bets on how many of those other people are going to need to sue first?

Filed Under: , , ,
Companies: twitter

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Texas Attorney General Unblocks Twitter Users Who Sued Him; Still Blocking Others”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
15 Comments
Toom1275 (profile) says:

the Knight v. Trump case, where the court made it clear that if (1) a public official is (2) using social media (3) for official purposes (4) to create a space of open dialogue (and all four of those factors are met) then they cannot block people from following them based on the views those users express, as it violates the 1st Amendment.

Is the one that Clarence Thomas threw out the first Amendment for in his pro-censorship rant?

Bruce C. says:

This seems like an opportunity..

Assuming Texas has weak class-action law, there’s room for a service like the ones that flooded companies that imposed binding arbitration requirements on their customers. If a law firm makes it relatively easy to file a claim against Paxton and other officials who do this, Paxton himself (or at least the Texas AG’s office) could be facing significant legal bills responding to a large number of claims simultaneously.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Sue the social media companies for allowing it.

Where is there is a catalogue of people using private accounts for government business, as government people can have private accounts so long as they do not use them for government business. A better idea is ban people from using private accounts for government business, just figure out how that law can be applied to a future president.

Darkness Of Course (profile) says:

Moot point, semantics of same

Elected officials using social media for communicating their official views/business cannot block users of said media services.

I have never blocked anyone on Twatter.

I do mute them thus their input is round filed and I never see it. It is 1st Amendment friendly because I am exercising my right of assembly, specifically not wanting to be in the cyber vicinity of fools and charlatans.

reticulator (profile) says:

Re: Moot point, semantics of same

I read the article. You might read it again.

In part, it says

[T]he court made it clear that if (1) a public official is (2) using social media (3) for official purposes (4) to create a space of open dialogue (and all four of those factors are met) then they cannot block people from following them based on the views those users express, as it violates the 1st Amendment.

This effectively says that given those conditions, the public official has no freedom of association. As a public official, they are required to associate with the public. Those are the people they serve. Public business requires public participation. Get it?

If you are a public official and want freedom of association, you get it by not using your account for official purposes (part 3 of the conditions). Public officials are free to choose their associates when not acting for official purposes.

Toom1275 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Moot point, semantics of same

Except for the part (in the case against Trump, at least) where use of Twitter’s "mute" feature was 100% allowed. Only "block" was unconstitutional, because it stopped people from reading and responding to the official’s posts. Nowhere were the officials at all restricted in exercising their right to ignore people on any of their accounts, official or no.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Keep digging Paxton, maybe that'll help somehow

Remind him what a crook he is and he responds by showing how much contempt for the first amendment he has and how utterly unfit he is for the position, oh yeah, that’s definintely helping him look less guilty.

If that’s how he wants to play it it would seem the appropriate response would be for the groups that brought the initial lawsuits to make it clear that they’ll take the case of anyone else that’s been blocked, and that they’ll keep taking those cases until the gutless coward of an AG stops wiping his backside with the first amendment rights of those in his state.

sumgai (profile) says:

I was thinking that after all these comments, I’d be the first to point this out, but Darkness Of Course has beat me to it.

Now you all know that I’m an asshole-hater of the first stripe, make no mistake. Number Two on my shit-list are those people who want their cake and be able to eat it too. I can’t get away with that, so I don’t like it when others try it. Hence I get a "two-fer" here, in the following diatribe.

So how is it that we here on TD, myself included, repeat ad nauseum that 1A does not give a person the right to force other people to listen to him/her… and yet the courts, who are 1/3 of the government and thus subject to 1A’s restrictions, can force public officials to listen to persons with whom they don’t want to associate???? Do recall that nowhere in the Constitution, nor in any Amendment, does it differentiate that a public servant becomes subject to a different standard vis-a-vis association with others (peaceful assembly, the language in 1A) – said personage still has full 1A rights, period. For the court(s) to declare otherwise is itself repugnant to the Constitution.

But moreover….. as we’ve said, all of us, #45 was never "kicked off the internet", because he always had alternative means to accomplish his goals (to be heard, errr, I mean to spout drivel (strike-through markdown needed!!)). Same here – if a citizen wants to communicate with Paxton, then he can either write a letter, use the telephone, send a telegram, hire a courier, or even buttonhole him at the lunch counter. Any and all of these methods (all of which were common before the rise of the internet) is viable. And when these seem fruitless, well then, you’ve got my personal favorite – simply attend one of his campaign speeches, and disrupt it – that’ll get some attention.

And of course there’s the final arbiter – the ballot box. You can be pretty certain that in most places in this country, if a public servant wants to continue in his/her position, they are going to listen to at least some of the constituency – if they cut off everyone (particularly after an outbreak of bad publicity), then they’re going to find out why that’s not a good idea the next time the ballot box is open for business. Hell, if you’re tired of his crap now and can’t wait, start a recall petition – that will also get some unwanted attention, won’t it though.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

No-one’s saying he(or other public officials) has to listen to everyone, merely that if he’s going to turn his social media account into an official one by making use of it for official government business then he has to treat everyone equally and he can’t shut the door on people just because he doesn’t like what they’re saying.

As a government employee he faces more restrictions than non-government actors and one of those restrictions is in what he is and is not allowed to do regarding speech by the public, if he doesn’t like that then there’s two really simple solutions: Have two social media accounts, one for personal use and one for government business and keep them separate, or get out of politics so he’s no longer bound by the first amendment.

Same here – if a citizen wants to communicate with Paxton, then he can either write a letter, use the telephone, send a telegram, hire a courier, or even buttonhole him at the lunch counter. Any and all of these methods (all of which were common before the rise of the internet) is viable. And when these seem fruitless, well then, you’ve got my personal favorite – simply attend one of his campaign speeches, and disrupt it – that’ll get some attention.

The point of comments on a public facing social media account is not just to talk to the account owner but to make your voice heard by others who are also conversing and viewing that account. Running with your example it would be somewhat like if you went to a campaign speech and tried to disrupt it only to be told that if you wanted to say something it had to be in writing and hand delivered during office hours as only people he wanted to speak in the venue were allowed to, with everyone else shown the door.

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

Re: Re:

the courts, who are 1/3 of the government and thus subject to 1A’s restrictions, can force public officials to listen to persons with whom they don’t want to associate

We are all probably dumber for having read this sad plaint.

The courts are not forcing officials to listen. Indeed, even in classic public hearings, the officials need not listen. The folks running Community Maritime Park (Pensacola) famously turned their backs on the public. My property tax notices provide ample evidence that officials are disinclined to listen.

What the courts are saying is that, if officials provide a public forum, they cannot exercise viewpoint discrimination in the operation of that forum. It is factually indistinguishable from a tax hearing where the entity would only permitt comment from those in favor of higher levies.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"So how is it that we here on TD, myself included, repeat ad nauseum that 1A does not give a person the right to force other people to listen to him/her… and yet the courts, who are 1/3 of the government and thus subject to 1A’s restrictions, can force public officials to listen to persons with whom they don’t want to associate?"

Because the very nature of public office is that you should be employed by and representing the entirety of the public, not just your mates whose echo chamber you prefer.

The public official is free to associate with who he wishes to associate with outside of his role, but in his role as a public representative he should be representing the public.

"But moreover….. as we’ve said, all of us, #45 was never "kicked off the internet", because he always had alternative means to accomplish his goals"

Indeed he did. However, when he decided to exclusively use Twitter to communicate with the public (to the degree that his own staff often didn’t find out about decisions before they were posted there), then members of the public were excluded from participating in government discourse if they were blocked from the account he used.

Part of being a government employee is that you lose your right to free association that you have as a private citizen. If this is problem, the answer is for such people to not be public employees, not for other private citizens to lose their access to government redress.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »