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Thursday, April 27, 2023

Supreme Court Will Hear Cases Involving Local Officials' Social Media Activities

Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear two appeals of court of appeals decisions on challenges to local government officials' actions on social media. 

The first case involved a challenge to two California school board members who had blocked parents from their personal social media pages. The parents had filed suit claiming that the school board members' actions violated their First Amendment rights. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the parents, finding that the school board members actions in blocking them from their pages violated the parents First Amendment rights. We wrote about this case last year and now the Supreme Court will decide the school board members' appeal of the adverse decision against them.

The second case involves a lawsuit against a Michigan city manager who had blocked a city resident after he had posted critical comments about the city manager's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this case, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the city manager, finding that he had not operated his Facebook page as part of his city manager duties so the blocking of the resident did not violate the resident's First Amendment rights. The resident is now appealing that decision to the Supreme Court.

So, it looks like the Supreme Court will finally weigh in on whether the actions of local government officials and employees on their personal social media pages and accounts (i.e., deleting critical comments and blocking or banning individuals) implicate the First Amendment rights of those individuals. It is certainly possible that the Supreme Court takes a "fact specific" approach to this issue which could end up with different conclusions based on how the officials and employees used their social media accounts (i.e., did they use it as a tool of governance or were the personal and official activities so intermingled as to blur the line between a personal page and a government forum?). It will certainly be interesting to see how the Justices deal with these two cases, particularly since the Court did not decide the only other case to reach them with similar issues (the challenge to former President Trump's actions on Twitter) because it was "moot" since he was no longer the President.

For more information, see Amy Howe, Justices add two cases on liability of officials who block critics on social mediaSCOTUSblog (Apr. 24, 2023, 11:31 AM).


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