The American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) of Kentucky and Maryland have filed federal lawsuits against the governors of Maryland and Kentucky. The organization says the governors have violated some citizens’ First Amendment rights by blocking them from viewing their official Facebook and Twitter accounts.
According to the Kentucky lawsuit announced Monday, Gov. Matt Bevin (R-Ky.) often posts videos, news and other statements on his Facebook and Twitter accounts. He has also blocked more than 600 users of the sites, according to the ACLU.
The suit, filed on behalf of two Kentucky residents who were blocked by Bevin, asks a judge to declare the act a violation of the First Amendment and to prohibit Bevin from blocking others.
In a statement, William Sharp, the legal director for the ACLU of Kentucky, said the government can’t exclude speakers from a public forum over disagreements about their viewpoint.
“And even when the government seeks to enforce permissible limits in such a forum, permanently excluding individuals for violating those limits goes too far,” Sharp said.
Amanda Stamper, a spokeswoman for Bevin, said his blocking certain users does not violate their free speech rights. She said only users who post “obscene and abusive language or images, or repeated off-topic comments and spam” are blocked.
A similar lawsuit against Maryland’s Gov. Larry Hogan (R-Md.) was filed by the ACLU on Tuesday, requesting an injunction that prevents him from blocking constituents on social media accounts.
The ACLU of Maryland’s legal director, Deborah Jeon, released the following statement:
“The highest purpose of the First Amendment is to protect the right of Americans to engage in political speech and to petition the government to address their concerns.
“As the Supreme Court ruled in June, and a federal judge in Virginia echoed just last week, social media has become a vital means for constituents to communicate with their elected officials. It violates both the First Amendment and Maryland’s own social media guidelines for government officials to block out any voices of dissent or those simply raising questions about positions taken by public officials sworn to serve.”
Meredith Phillips, one of the plaintiffs in Maryland, claims that she voted for Hogan, even though she’s a Democrat. She says she asked the governor to issue a statement about President Trump’s travel ban, and the governor blocked her afterward.
“My comment was deleted and I was blocked from the page. From the moment it happened, I couldn’t believe Governor Hogan would block people who disagreed with him, but who weren’t rude or threatening,” Phillips said. “Deleting any comment from constituents that doesn’t praise or agree with Governor Hogan is a violation of free speech.”
President Trump is also being sued for blocking social media accounts. According to the Knight First Amendment Institute, which filed the suit in the Southern District of New York, “[S]even individuals from across the country” felt the president and his communications team had violated their First Amendment rights. They’ve been banned from the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account, after having been vocally critical on the site.
In June, the Institute asked the president and his aides to unblock the individuals, saying they would file suit if they did not. After receiving no response from the White House, they filed suit the on July 11.
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