Court Battles

Supreme Court to examine public officials blocking people on social media

The Supreme Court has agreed to take up two cases that weigh whether public officials on their personal social media accounts can constitutionally block users when they use the account to post about their job.

The cases come two years after the high court dismissed as moot a lawsuit over former President Trump blocking users on his Twitter account.

The justices are now set to take up a similar issue as they consider a lawsuit filed against school board members in Southern California and another filed against the city manager of Port Huron, Mich.

The justices announced the move in two brief, unsigned orders, as is typical. Oral arguments are likely to be held this fall, with decisions by the end of June 2024.

In the first case, parents of children enrolled in the Poway Unified School District, in the San Diego area, sent comments and replies to two school board members’ Facebook and Twitter posts. The parents, Christopher and Kimberly Garnier, said their comments exposed “financial mismanagement” by the superintendent and incidents of racism. 

The board members, Michelle O’Connor-Ratcliff and T.J. Zane, then blocked the parents, who then filed suit in federal court for violation of their First Amendment rights.

“Because of a District rule largely precluding Board members from responding to constituents at in-person Board meetings, and because emails often went unanswered, the Trustees’ social media pages were the best medium for interactive communication between constituents and Board members,” lawyers for the Garniers’ wrote to the justices.

In the second case, city manager James Freed blocked resident Kevin Lindke on Facebook after he commented several times on Freed’s Facebook page to criticize Port Huron’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The justices will hear the cases separately, but they present near-identical issues. In both disputes, the officials created the accounts personally and contend they did not engage in any government action by blocking their constituents, so there is no First Amendment issue.

The blocked users are arguing that courts in deciding these cases should assess a broad range of factors, including the accounts’ purpose and appearance, even if they aren’t technically created by a government entity.

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