Wisconsin Lawmakers Sued for Blocking Liberal Group on Twitter

MADISON, Wis. (CN) – A Wisconsin progressive nonprofit filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against three Republican State Assembly members for blocking its Twitter account, calling the move a restriction on speech in a public forum.  

One Wisconsin Now Inc., represented by Christine O. Westerberg of Pines Bach LLP, sued Rep. Jesse Kremer from the 59th Assembly District, Rep. John Nygren from the 89th Assembly District and Rep. Robin Vos from the 63rd Assembly District, arguing blocking its Twitter page amounts to a violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

“Defendants have ‘blocked’ plaintiff from their official Twitter accounts, depriving plaintiff of the ability to participate in the forums defendants have created and exercise its rights to free speech and to petition the government,” according to the complaint filed in Madison federal court.

The liberal nonprofit wants a judge to order the lawmakers to unblock its Twitter account and prohibit them from blocking any other pages in the future.

“It imposes an unconstitutional restriction on One Wisconsin Now’s speech in a designated public forum and impedes One Wisconsin Now’s ability to communicate with its Twitter followers and others,” the 19-page lawsuit states. “It imposes an unconstitutional restriction on One Wisconsin Now’s right to access statements that defendants are otherwise making available to the public at large.”

The group – which has over 10,400 followers on Twitter and advocates for progressive issues in Wisconsin – says in the complaint that it has been critical of the three Republican lawmakers.

“Plaintiff has used Twitter to criticize policies promoted by the defendants, such as those affecting students, minorities, and women,” the complaint states. “While One Wisconsin Now has often been critical of defendants via defendants’ and its own Twitter accounts, it has not posted anything threatening, obscene, or defamatory.”

The state representatives allegedly blocked One Wisconsin Now’s Twitter page earlier this year between the months of March and August.

Kremer was elected in 2014 and has over 900 followers on his Twitter account.

Nygren was elected in 2007 and has about 2,600 followers. Elected in 2004, Vos has over 4,000 followers.

“Defendants’ accounts are a kind of digital town hall in which defendants and/or their aides use the tweet function to communicate news and information to the public, and members of the public use the reply function to respond to defendants and their aides and exchange views with one another,” the nonprofit claims.

One Wisconsin Executive Director Scot Ross said in a phone interview Wednesday that this is the first time One Wisconsin has filed a suit over being blocked on social media.

“Social media outlets like Twitter are going to be used more and more by public officials to communicate with their constituents and through this lawsuit, One Wisconsin Now wants to establish that the peoples’ right to hear from and respond to elected officials on social media is protected by the First Amendment,” he said.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Rep. Kremer said on Wednesday that Twitter comments from One Wisconsin “amounted to ‘spam’ and were sometimes disrespectful.”

“I think they did it because we are a very prominent, important voice in the progressive community and they disagree with what we have to say about important public policy issues,” Ross said. “I think by blocking us, they were telling us that certain speech that they don’t agree with they don’t think should have a public forum.”

The group’s attorney, Westerberg, declined to comment further in a phone call Wednesday.

The defendant lawmakers did not immediately respond to email requests for comment.

A similar federal lawsuit was filed against President Donald Trump in July by critics he blocked on Twitter. Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin was also sued that same month for blocking two constituents on Facebook and Twitter.

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