First Amendment

Texas AG agrees to stop blocking Twitter users for 'First Amendment-protected viewpoints'

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Ken Paxton

Teax Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The Texas attorney general has agreed to stop blocking critics on social media after a group of them alleged in court he was violating their free-speech rights.

In a joint stipulation of dismissal filed in federal court in Austin, Texas, Friday, Ken Paxton said he will no longer block users from his personal @KenPaxtonTX Twitter account based on “First Amendment-protected viewpoints expressed.” The joint stipulation also states that Paxton had already unblocked the nine plaintiffs in the case as well as other users.

The Texas Tribune, Dallas Observer, CBS News and Courthouse News Service have coverage.

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and American Civil Liberties Union of Texas filed the lawsuit in April in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas on behalf of nine Twitter users, including lead plaintiff Mario Carrillo, a campaign manager for a pro-immigration organization. They claimed Paxton used his Twitter account for “official purposes,” including to share information and solicit feedback on government policy, and that his practice of blocking users who criticized him was unconstitutional.

“Attorney General Paxton’s blocking of the individual plaintiffs from the account based on viewpoint violates the individual plaintiffs’ right to speak in a public forum,” the plaintiffs said in their complaint. “It also violates their right of access to important government information, and their right to petition the government for redress of grievances.”

Carrillo discovered Paxton had blocked him from his Twitter account in February after he made a comment in reference to the attorney general’s securities fraud indictment, the complaint states.

Paxton previously served as a Republican state lawmaker, and after being sworn in as attorney general in 2015, was charged with securities fraud and failure to register with the state securities board. That case is ongoing.

Paxton’s office did not respond to the Texas Tribune’s request for comment.

Katie Fallow, senior counsel at the Knight First Amendment Institute, said Monday that plaintiffs were pleased with the result of their lawsuit, which both parties agreed to dismiss without prejudice.

“Multiple courts have recognized that government officials who use their social media accounts for official purposes violate the First Amendment if they block people from those accounts on the basis of viewpoint,” Fallow said in a statement. “What Paxton was doing was unconstitutional.”

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at New York and 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Richmond, Virginia, have both held that public officials who block users from their social media accounts because of their viewpoints are violating the First Amendment.

The 2nd Circuit held in its case, which was brought by the Knight First Amendment Institute, that President Donald Trump could not block critics from his @realDonaldTrump account. The U.S. Supreme Court found the case to be moot earlier this year after Twitter banned Trump from its platform.

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