AUSTIN— The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University today sent a letter to Senator John Cornyn on behalf of a constituent blocked from the Senator’s Twitter account, @JohnCornyn. The letter asks that the Senator immediately stop blocking people from the account based on their viewpoints. Courts have recently held in Knight Institute lawsuits that public officials violate the First Amendment when they block critics from their official social media accounts.
“Senator Cornyn has used his Twitter account to communicate with the public about official government business, including about the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Katie Fallow, Senior Staff Attorney at the Knight Institute. “As multiple courts have held, public officials can’t lawfully block people from their social media accounts simply because they don’t like what they’ve posted. These accounts are public forums, and the First Amendment bars government officials from excluding people from them based solely on viewpoint.”
The letter the Institute sent today explains that Senator Cornyn or his staff blocked Heath Mayo, a Texas voter and former intern for Senator Cornyn, after Mayo replied to a March 14th tweet posted on @JohnCornyn. The Senator tweeted, “Be smart; don’t panic. We will get us through this #coronavirus,” with a photo of a Corona Extra beer at an empty restaurant. The next day, Mayo retweeted the post and commented, “I just don’t understand the thought process that gets a senior-ranking Senator to say: ‘You know what? I think I’ll post this picture of a Corona beer in an empty restaurant where I’m dining, in direct disregard of CDC & gov’t guidance—a gov’t for which I’m a spokesman.’” In response to this retweet, the Senator blocked Mayo in late April.
As the Institute’s letter notes, Senator Cornyn and his staff have blocked several others from the @JohnCornyn account. Many have tweeted about having been blocked. Two weeks ago, Senator Cornyn unblocked another constituent after that person filed a lawsuit. Today’s letter calls upon the Senator to immediately unblock Mayo and any other users blocked because of their views.
In 2019, the Second and Fourth Circuits held that public officials who block people from their official social media accounts based on viewpoint are violating the First Amendment. Most recently, in Knight Institute v. Trump, the Second Circuit held that President Trump could not block users from his @realDonaldTrump account because “he disagree[d] with their speech.” On March 23, the court denied the president’s request for a full-court review of the 2019 unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel. The government has until August 20, 2020, to seek review from the Supreme Court in that case.
Read today’s letter here.
For more information, contact: Lorraine Kenny, Communications Director, Knight First Amendment Institute, [email protected].