Earlier this year, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton famously accused large tech companies of violating users' free speech rights by suspending their accounts. But a free speech advocacy group says it's Paxton who's violating the First Amendment.
On Thursday, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University sued the law enforcement official for allegedly blocking critics on Twitter.
The advocacy group brought the case on behalf of itself and 10 people who say they were blocked after expressing disapproval of Paxton or his policies. One of the plaintiffs, University of Texas at Austin student Joseph Cascino alleges he was blocked by Paxton after tweeting “Go and beg for your pardon,” in response to Paxton's call for Trump supporters to march in Washington on January 6 -- the date the Senate confirmed President Joe Biden's victory in the election.
The complaint compares Twitter to a public forum -- like a city park -- where the government can't restrict speech based on point of view.
“Paxton’s viewpoint-based blocking of the individual plaintiffs ... imposes an unconstitutional restriction on their participation in a designated public forum; on their right to access statements that Attorney General Paxton is otherwise making available to the public at large; and on their right to petition the government for redress of grievances,” the Knight Institute alleges in a complaint filed in federal court in Austin.
The claims are similar to ones made by the same group in 2017, when it sued former President Donald Trump for blocking detractors on Twitter.
A federal appellate court sided against Trump in that matter, ruling that he engaged in viewpoint-based discrimination by blocking Twitter users who criticized with him. That prior ruling was vacated this week by the Supreme Court, on the grounds that the dispute is moot now that Trump is no longer a government official.