Missouri Official Must Face Suit Over Twitter Block

A Missouri state lawmaker must face claims that she violated a resident's First Amendment rights by blocking him on Twitter, a federal judge has ruled.

The decision, quietly issued earlier this month, stems from a lawsuit filed by Missouri resident Mike Campbell against Missouri House of Representatives member Cheri Toalson Reisch.

Campbell alleged in a complaint brought last June that he was blocked on Twitter by Reisch after he re-tweeted one of Reisch's critics.

The dispute started when Reisch tweeted that a political opponent “put her hands behind her back during the Pledge.”

A separate lawmaker, Kip Kendrick, then criticized Reisch's tweet, calling it “a low blow.”

Campbell re-tweeted Kendrick's criticism. Shortly afterwards, Reisch blocked Campbell on the microblogging platform.

Campbell then sued Reisch, alleging that she violated his free speech rights.

“Reisch retaliated against Campbell for engaging in fully protected political speech by permanently blocking him from accessing or commenting on her Twitter account,” he alleged in a lawsuit brought in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri.

Reisch sought to dismiss the lawsuit at an early stage for several reasons, including that her Twitter use was “personal conduct,” not governmental action.

The First Amendment prohibits the government from censoring speech for political reasons.

U.S. District Court Judge Brian Wimes rejected Reisch's argument and ruled that Campbell could proceed with his lawsuit. Wimes noted that the complaint alleged that Reisch used her Twitter “to address her constituents, tout her accomplishments as a state representative, and promote her political agenda.”

“Campbell's allegations and reasonable inferences from them are sufficient to plead that Reisch acted under color of state law,” he wrote.

The ruling is one of several recent decisions centered on whether politicians are allowed to block critics on social media.

Earlier this year, a federal appeals court said an official from Loudon County, Virginia violated a constituent's rights by briefly banning him on Facebook.

In its decision, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals said the ban -- in effect for around 12 hours -- marked “unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.”

And last year, a federal judge in New York ruled that President Trump violated the constitution by blocking Twitter users based on their political views. That ruling is currently being appealed by the Department of Justice.

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