Supreme Court Rules Gov Officials Can Block Constituents On Social Media In Certain Situations

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The Supreme Court unanimously ruled Friday that there are circumstances when government officials can permissibly block a constituent from their social media pages, provided they are not claiming to speak on the state’s behalf.

The case, Lindke v. Freed, stemmed from Port Huron, Michigan, resident Kevin Lindke’s First Amendment lawsuit against city manager James Freed, who blocked Lindke from his Facebook page over comments criticizing the city’s response to COVID-19. While officials may look like they are “always on the clock,” not every encounter is “part of the job,” Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote in the opinion of the court.

“The state-action doctrine requires Lindke to show that Freed (1) had actual authority to speak on behalf of the State on a particular matter, and (2) purported to exercise that authority in the relevant posts,” the court held. (RELATED: ‘Era Of Polarization’: Amy Coney Barrett Hints At Reason For SCOTUS Docket Loaded With Trump, Censorship Cases)

“Lindke cannot hang his hat on Freed’s status as a state employee,” Barrett wrote. “The distinction between private conduct and state action turns on substance, not labels: Private parties can act with the authority of the State, and state officials have private lives and their own constitutional rights. Categorizing conduct, therefore, can require a close look.”

The justices also resolved a similar case, Garnier v. O’Connor-Ratcliff, which involved two California school board members who blocked parents on social media. The Court vacated the Ninth Circuit’s ruling that the school board members were acting “under color of state law” and sent the case back “for further proceedings consistent with our opinion.”

The Supreme Court will consider two consequential free speech cases Monday that also raise questions concerning state action.

The first, Murthy v. Missouri, challenges the Biden administration’s coordination with social media companies to censor speech online. The second, NRA v. Vullo, involves the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) First Amendment lawsuit against a former New York official who pressured banks and insurers not to do business with the organization.

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