AUSTIN — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has unblocked the nine plaintiffs whom the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas represent in an ongoing lawsuit challenging Paxton’s practice of blocking critics from his Twitter account. Paxton had blocked the plaintiffs from his @KenPaxtonTX account after they criticized him or his policies in their own tweets.
“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. “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.”
“This is a step in the right direction. Attorney General Paxton cannot prevent Texans from exercising their First Amendment rights, including their right to criticize his policies and qualifications in their responses to his tweets,” said Kate Huddleston, attorney for the ACLU of Texas. “It remains to be seen, however, whether the Attorney General will unblock other Texans whose speech he’s suppressed. It shouldn’t take a lawsuit for Attorney General Paxton to comply with the Constitution.”
As the complaint in the lawsuit explains, Attorney General Paxton uses the @KenPaxtonTX Twitter account to announce, describe, and defend his policies and legal challenges brought by his office; to comment on national and local issues; and to share news appearances and interviews related to his official duties. These tweets typically generate dozens, if not hundreds, of engagements on Twitter in the form of replies, likes, retweets, and quote tweets.
Some of the individual plaintiffs in the lawsuit found themselves blocked from Attorney General Paxton’s account after they tweeted their views about the top Texas law enforcement official’s qualifications and policies, including tweeting about funding for lawsuits brought by his office; commenting on the fact that he was previously indicted; or tweeting “wear a mask nerd,” after Paxton retweeted a photo of himself and another person at the Conservative Political Action Conference, with neither of them wearing masks.
The U.S. Courts of Appeals for both the Second and Fourth Circuits have held that public officials who block people from their official social media accounts based on viewpoint are violating the First Amendment, while the Eighth Circuit has adopted the same general framework for evaluating social media blocking by government officials. 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.” Earlier this year, the Supreme Court found the case to be moot and vacated the Second Circuit decision on that basis, without addressing the merits.
Read more about Knight Institute v. Paxton here.
The individual plaintiffs include a U.S. Army veteran, a journalist, a director of a Texas nonprofit, an immigration advocate, two students, a sales representative, a communications project assistant, and an attorney.
Lawyers on the case include, in addition to Fallow and Huddleston, Lyndsey Wajert, Jameel Jaffer, and Alex Abdo of the Knight First Amendment Institute, and Andre Segura, legal director of the ACLU of Texas.
For more information, contact: Lorraine Kenny, communications director, [email protected].