JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CN) – Finding that her page constitutes a public forum, a federal judge in Missouri ruled Friday that a Republican state lawmaker violated the free speech rights of a constituent she blocked on Twitter.
Columbia attorney Mike Campbell filed his First Amendment lawsuit in June 2018, claiming he was blocked by Rep. Cheri Toalson Reisch for retweeting a comment criticizing her political views.
On Friday, U.S. District Judge Brian Wimes found that the creation of Reisch’s Twitter account coincided with the start of her campaign to represent the 44th District in the Missouri House, and her role as a state lawmaker overshadowed any personal references on her page.
“Defendant tweets about campaign events, promotes her agenda, and tweets about her political positions relative to other public officials,” the judge wrote in a 16-page ruling. “Having considered the relevant factors relating to government intent, the court concludes the interactive spaces of defendant’s tweets are properly considered a designated public forum.”
Wimes’ ruling cited a Second Circuit decision last month in which a three-judge panel ruled that it is unconstitutional for President Donald Trump to block users who criticize him.
“In the absence of evidence suggesting defendant blocked plaintiff for any reason other than to exclude comments critical of defendant’s role as a public official, the court finds defendant’s actions were under color of state law,” Wimes wrote.
Reisch, who has since deleted her Twitter account, said the lawsuit is nothing but “dirty politics” and has led to her tires being slashed and her family being threatened.
“It’s a judgment that impacts not only me but all public servants who simply want to avoid the ugly name-calling and vitriol that are too often present on social media,” she said in a statement Friday after the ruling.
Reisch said she is unsure whether she will appeal the ruling as the process is lengthy and expensive.
The lawmaker was quick to admit that she is not computer savvy and had help from her nephew when creating the Twitter account.
“If he ever wants to call and have a real conversation I’d be happy to sit down with him,” she said of Campbell, adding that he moved into her district two months before he filed the suit.
Campbell’s attorney, J. Andrew Hirth of TGH Litigation, said he is pleased with the court’s ruling, as the decision affirms that the comments section of social media accounts operated by government officials are public forums.
“The First Amendment does not require Representative Reisch to listen to Mr. Campbell’s speech, but it does prohibit her from silencing him,” he said.
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