Today, we’re talking about a case that will soon be before the U.S. Supreme Court. The case involves whether public officials can block criticism of them on social media. The irony about this case is that a Federal judge had already made a similar decision in a lawsuit against Donald Trump when he was president. But now that the shoe is on the other foot left, wing politicians want it both ways.
The U.S. Supreme Court is currently examining two cases that had vastly different outcomes. The first case, Garnier v. Poway Unified Sch. Dist., involved Christopher and Kimberly Garnier, who had three children in the school district. They sued Michelle O’Connor-Ratcliff and T.J. Zane, who were members of the Poway School board and had blocked posts critical of them on social media. Last July, a California federal judge ruled for the Garniers, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the ruling.
The second case involved Kevin Lindke, a resident of Port Huron, Michigan, who was blocked by City Manager James Freed from his public Facebook page. Lindke sued Freed in federal court, but a federal judge ruled for Freed in 2021. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the ruling last July.
After O’Connor-Ratcliff and Zane were elected, they changed their public Facebook pages to reflect their board positions. O’Connor-Ratcliff “added a “Political Info” section showing her “Current Office” as “Board of Education President, Poway Unified School District.” Her “About” section identified her as a “Government Official.” Zane changed his Facebook page to identify his position as a “Poway Unified School District Trustee,” and in the “About” section, he also identified himself as a “Government Official.”
Now, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether public officials have the right to block criticism of themselves on social media. This is an important issue, as social media has become a significant forum for public discourse, and elected officials are increasingly using these platforms to communicate with their constituents.
You may remember that in May of 2018, a federal judge decided that Trump could not block users that were critical of him because it violated the First Amendment since the social media platform is a public forum. “‘No government official — including the President — is above the law,” Judge Barrington D. Parker wrote. A federal appeals court upheld the decision in 2019; Judge Barrington D. Parker wrote using a social media account for government purposes prohibits that official from excluding people.
It may not seem like it, but this case may be more important than the Roe v. Wade decision. As we saw with the Twitter files government was working overtime during the pandemic to block, restrict, and censor anyone they could. Any decision that could affect free speech will have huge implications in the future.
“This debate, as uncomfortable and as unpleasant as it frequently may be, is nonetheless a good thing,” Parker wrote. “In resolving this appeal, we remind the litigants and the public that if the First Amendment means anything, it means that the best response to disfavored speech on matters of public concern is more speech, not less.”