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Texas Attorney General Agrees to Stop Blocking Online Critics

Ken Paxton agreed to stop blocking Twitter users from his account after a group of the firebrand Republican's critics claimed in court he was silencing them on the platform in violation of their free-speech rights.

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — Nine Twitter users have dismissed their First Amendment lawsuit against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton after he stopped blocking them and other critics from accessing his account on the social media platform.

From comments about his office charging people with voter fraud to statements about the lawsuits he frequently files against the administration of Democratic President Joe Biden, Paxton often posts about matters of public interest on his Twitter account. He touts his conservative bona fides in tweets and frequently swipes at Democrats and the media.

The Republican attorney general's detractors make their feelings known by posting comments about his tweets. To tune them out, Paxton took to blocking some of those users from his Twitter account.

The blockage drew a federal lawsuit in April from The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and nine Twitter users, who claimed because Paxton uses his account for "official purposes” it is unconstitutional for him to block his critics.

The lead plaintiff, Mario Carrillo, lives in Austin, where he is a campaign manager for a pro-immigration organization.

He says he learned in late February that Paxton had blocked him after he made comments about Paxton’s securities fraud indictment, writing, “When is court date again @KenPaxtonTX?”

Within months of being sworn in as attorney general in 2015, Paxton was indicted on state felony charges of securities fraud and failure to register with the Texas State Securities Board.

Prosecutors claim Paxton, then a Texas state representative, did not disclose he would earn commissions for steering investors to the McKinney, Texas-based technology firm Servergy. The case has been stalled by numerous pretrial motions from Paxton and prosecutors.

The plaintiffs argued the comment threads associated with Paxton’s tweets have become important forums, and Paxton blocking them was viewpoint discrimination.

They dismissed their lawsuit Friday after Paxton unblocked their Twitter accounts, and all other accounts he had blocked, and agreed to stop the practice.

The dismissal is without prejudice, meaning the plaintiffs are not barred from pursuing their claims should Paxton block them again.

This is not the first time the Knight First Amendment Institute has successfully challenged a public official for silencing critics on Twitter.

It sued then-President Donald Trump in July 2017 for blocking Twitter users from interacting with his account. The Second Circuit affirmed after a federal judge ruled that Trump’s account was a presidential account, not a personal one, and blocking people from it violated their First Amendment right to participate in a designated public forum.

Trump appealed to the Supreme Court, which vacated the Second Circuit’s ruling, deeming the case moot after Twitter banned Trump from its platform in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Katie Fallow, a senior staff attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute, referenced that history in commenting on the case involving Paxton.

 “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. What Paxton was doing was unconstitutional,” she said in a statement Monday.

Paxton has more than 139,000 followers on his Twitter account.

His latest tweet is a clip of a Monday morning interview on Fox News in which he voiced his support for Governor Greg Abbott making a priority for the Texas Legislature’s special summer session the passage of a bill authorizing judges to deny bail to people charged with violent crimes, sexual assault, sex trafficking, or facing multiple felony charges.

Another of Abbott’s top priorities for the special session is so-called election integrity legislation he says is needed to ensure voter fraud does not sway elections.

But opponents say the push is part of a nationwide effort by Republicans to pass laws that make it harder for Democrat-leaning minorities to vote, fueled by Trump’s unfounded claims the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him.

Paxton is helping Abbott build his case Texas’ election system is rife with fraud.

The attorney general told Fox News on Monday his office has “over 500 cases” of voter fraud waiting to go to trial. He did not mention that each of those cases are not against separate defendants, but involve 43 defendants charged with multiple counts.

“We have more voter fraud cases than we’ve ever had. That’s just a fact,” Paxton said. “And so we need to talk about the fact that we are dealing with this issue, and that we do need legislation to make sure voter fraud is not prevalent. So people can count on the elections being true, and that the right people are being elected.”

Both Paxton and Abbott are ardent supporters of Trump.

Paxton even filed a lawsuit with the U.S. Supreme Court in December on behalf of the Lone Star State, challenging the election results in the battleground states Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia.

Several other red states joined as plaintiffs. The high court quickly dismissed the case, finding the GOP-controlled states have no "judicially cognizable interest" in the way other states run their elections.

Undeterred by that defeat, Paxton gave a short speech at Trump's "Save America" rally on Jan. 6 before Trump's supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol.

Follow Cameron Langford on Twitter

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