US Supreme Court Overturns Decisions on Public Officials Banning Social Media Critics

The Supreme Court recently invalidated two judicial rulings concerning whether public officials can block critics on social media without violating constitutional free speech protections.

The lower courts’ decisions in California and Michigan were vacated by the justices in two separate cases where individuals sued local officials under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution after being blocked for posting criticisms on social media accounts. The Supreme Court instructed the lower courts to reevaluate the issue.

The main point of contention in the legal battle was whether the officials, in blocking their critics, were acting in an official capacity. The First Amendment primarily restricts governmental actors, not private individuals, in terms of free speech protections.

The act of blocking users is often used on social media to silence critics. The Supreme Court previously faced a similar issue in 2021 regarding former President Donald Trump’s attempt to block critics on Twitter, but the case was deemed moot after he left office.

The Supreme Court listened to arguments in both cases in October.

One case involved two public school board trustees from Poway, California, who appealed a lower court ruling favoring parents who were blocked from the officials’ accounts on Facebook and X (owned by Meta Platforms) after posting critical comments.

The second case involved a Michigan man who challenged a Port Huron city official’s blocking on Facebook, which a lower court ruled against in his lawsuit.

The Biden administration supported the officials in both cases, while free speech advocacy groups urged the justices to support the plaintiffs.

In the California case, the trustees of the Poway Unified School District blocked parents who posted critical remarks about various issues. The parents sued the trustees for violating their First Amendment rights.

The Michigan case involved a resident suing the city manager for blocking him on Facebook after critical posts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The higher court ruled in favor of the city manager, stating that the blocking did not constitute an official act.

The Supreme Court is also anticipated to deliver rulings in other significant cases involving social media speech by the end of June. These include challenges to state laws that restrict social media platforms from moderating content and attempts to prevent the Biden administration from endorsing such moderation.

© 2024 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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