Texas Attorney General Sued by Blocked Twitter Users

The plaintiffs claim Ken Paxton blocked them for comments they made about his felony indictment and his endorsement of former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims he lost the November election because of voting fraud.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks in Washington at a rally in support of then-President Donald Trump on Jan. 6. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — Several critics of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued him on Thursday, claiming his blocking of them from his Twitter account is unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.

Paxton is arguably the most aggressive Republican attorney general in the United States in attacking the policies of Democratic presidents through litigation.

He sued the administration of former President Barack Obama 17 times, including a challenge of Obama’s signature health care legislation the Affordable Care Act, and has already filed several suits against President Joe Biden’s administration.

Leading coalitions of Republican-controlled states, Paxton has sued Biden’s cabinet members for revoking the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, trying to impose a 100-day moratorium on deportations and over its handling of incarcerated immigrants who have been ordered deported. Texas also joined a Louisiana-led challenge of Biden’s suspension of oil drilling permits on federal land.

Paxton uses his Twitter account to announce the lawsuits, post clips of his appearances on Fox News and other right-leaning media outlets, post religious messages and swipe at Democrats and the “Texas Fake News Cartel.

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University joined nine Twitter users who say Paxton has blocked them from interacting with his account on the microblogging platform in a civil rights lawsuit against the attorney general filed Thursday in Austin federal court.

Because Paxton uses his Twitter account for “official purposes,” they claim, it is unconstitutional for him to block his critics.

The lead individual 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 and believes the move stems from him retweeting a tweet from Paxton’s account in which the attorney general said he was exploring litigation to stop El Paso County officials from issuing a curfew to try to tamp down an outbreak of Covid-19.

“Carrillo commented, ‘The party of local control strikes again. Also, when is court date again @KenPaxtonTX?'” the complaint states.

Carrillo’s mention of a court date refers to the fact that Paxton, Texas’ chief law enforcement officer, has been under indictment for more than five years.

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

Prosecutors claim Paxton urged investors to put $600,000 into technology firm Servergy without disclosing he would earn a commission and misrepresented he was investing in the McKinney-based company while he was a member of the Texas House of Representatives.

He faces up to 99 years in state prison if convicted. The case has been stuck in pretrial for over five years as it has been transferred to another county and back and Paxton has launched several attempts at having the judge removed.

Paxton is also under a federal criminal investigation by the FBI after seven former senior staffers reported him last year for alleged corruption and bribery regarding his hiring of special outside counsel to go after the enemies of Republican campaign donor Nate Paul.

Several of the plaintiffs – who include two college students who lead campus Democratic organizations, a salesman for a technology firm and an Army veteran who is the project manager for a health insurance company – say Paxton also blocked them for posting about his criminal case.

Others say Paxton blocked them for criticizing his backing of former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims he lost the November presidential election due to voting fraud.

Paxton filed a lawsuit with the U.S. Supreme Court in December, challenging the election results of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia. Several other red states joined as plaintiffs. The high court quickly dismissed the case, finding Texas not proven it had a “judicially cognizable interest” in the way other states run their elections.

Unbowed by that loss, Paxton gave a short speech at Trump’s infamous “Save America” rally on Jan. 6 before Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol.

Because Paxton posts on Twitter about issues of public importance typically receive dozens of comments, the plaintiffs say “the comment threads associated with the tweets have become important forums for speech by, to, and about” Paxton.

They seek a declaration that Paxton’s “viewpoint-based blocking” is unconstitutional and an injunction ordering him to unblock them. They are represented Katherine Fallow of the Knight First Amendment Institute and Kathryn Huddleston of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday evening.

The lawsuit comes days after the U.S. Supreme Court vacated a June 2019 appellate court ruling that found it unconstitutional for then-President Trump to block Twitter users who criticized him. The Knight First Amendment Institute was also behind that litigation.

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