Last Updated on April 8, 2021 – 9:45 PM CDT
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune: Read More
Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.
A group of Texans and a free speech advocacy group are suing Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in federal court, accusing him of unconstitutionally blocking nine people on Twitter for criticizing him or his policies on the platform.
The lawsuit also argues that being blocked from viewing Paxton’s tweets is a violation of the First Amendment because it limits the right of people to participate in a public forum and access statements made by Paxton. The account mentioned in the lawsuit, @KenPaxtonTX, is a separate account from the official account of the Office of the Texas Attorney General.
But Paxton uses the account to make official announcements, comment on local issues and defend his policies, according to the lawsuit.
“This information is relevant not just to the residents of Texas but to Americans more generally, given the national scope of many of the matters the Texas Attorney General’s office tackles,” the lawsuit says. “Those who are blocked from the @KenPaxtonTX account are impeded in their ability to learn information that is shared only through that account.”
Paxton did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the lawsuit.
The lawsuit filed against Paxton isn’t the first time a politician has been sued for blocking their constituents on Twitter. The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, which is a party to the suit against Paxton, recently sued President Donald Trump for blocking certain users on Twitter after they criticized him.
A federal appeals court in Manhattan ruled in 2019 that Trump violated the First Amendment for blocking his Twitter followers, because he used his Twitter account to conduct official business and interact with the public. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ordered the appeals court to dismiss the case as moot as Trump is no longer President and Twitter permanently suspended his account.
Paxton has also recently accused Twitter itself of censorship. He sent the company a civil investigative demand in response to the ban of former Trump from its platform after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in January.
“The seemingly coordinated de-platforming of the President of the United States and several leading voices not only chills free speech, it wholly silences those whose speech and political beliefs do not align with leaders of Big Tech companies,” Paxton said in a Jan. 13 news release.
Twitter has filed a lawsuit in federal court asking for a judge to stop Paxton’s investigation, and it has claimed that the investigation violates the First Amendment as an inappropriate use of government authority.
According to the Texas lawsuit against Paxton, one plaintiff realized they were blocked after replying to a tweet from Paxton in January about a MAGA rally with “Enjoy the fresh air before you go to prison, Kenneth!” Another Twitter user learned they were blocked after replying with “wear a mask nerd” to Paxton’s tweet with a photo of him and another person at the Conservative Political Action Conference without masks, the lawsuit states.
Paxton’s action of blocking people who criticize him appears to be widespread, and he has “blocked many other individuals from the @KenPaxtonTX account based on their viewpoints,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit asks a federal court to order that Paxton’s action of blocking users based on their critical tweets violates the First Amendment. The plaintiffs are also asking for Paxton to unblock them and everyone else who was blocked from the @KenPaxtonTX account “based on their viewpoints.”
Lyndsey Wajert, a Legal Fellow at the Knight First Amendment Institute, said the institute has not been blocked by Paxton, but it brought the lawsuit on behalf of the nine plaintiffs because they wanted to hold him accountable for violating their constitutional rights.
“Numerous courts, not just the [U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit] in the Trump lawsuit, but numerous courts around the country have held that when a government official uses a social media account to carry out official duties and then that official blocks people based on viewpoint from the account, then that violates the First Amendment,” Wajert said. “So we brought this lawsuit knowing that this behavior is unconstitutional.”