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Friday, March 15, 2024

BREAKING: Supreme Court Rules on Government Social Media Cases

We have been following two pending appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court involving First Amendment challenges to government officials regarding their social media activities. The Supreme Court issued opinions in both cases today. We wanted to get a post out right away with a very brief summary of the two rulings and will plan a more detailed summary and explanation of the Court's analysis next week.

The first case involved a First Amendment lawsuit against a City Manager who had deleted critical comments and blocked the commenter from the City Manager's personal Facebook page. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled in favor of the City Manager, finding that his actions did not amount to "state action" under Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act. The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which issued an opinion today. The Supreme Court held that a government official's speech on social media will only be attributable to the government if the official (1) possesses actual authority to speak on the government's behalf and (2) purported to exercise that authority when the official spoke on social media. The Court remanded the case back to the Sixth Circuit to apply that test to the extent that it differed from the one the Sixth Circuit applied when it ruled in favor of the City Manager. Lindke v. Freed.

The second case also involved a First Amendment lawsuit, this time filed by parents against school board members who had deleted their comments and blocked them from the school board members' personal Facebook pages. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the parents, holding that the school board members violated the parents' First Amendment rights when they deleted comments and blocked them from their pages. That ruling was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which vacated the Ninth Circuit's ruling and remanded the case with instructions that the Ninth Circuit apply the test the Supreme Court established in today's Lindke v. Freed case. O'Connor-Ratcliff v. Garnier.

Stay tuned next week for a more detailed analysis of the Supreme Court's new test and how it might apply to both government officials' and employees' social media activities.


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