Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has unblocked critics on Twitter, and has agreed that he won't again block people from his account, @KenPaxtonTX, based on their political views.
The moves resolve a legal battle dating to April, when the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University sued on behalf of itself and nine people who said they were blocked after expressing disapproval of Paxton or his policies.
One plaintiff, 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 Jan. 6 -- the date the Senate confirmed President Joe Biden's victory in the election.
The Knight Institute's complaint compared Twitter to a public forum -- like a city park -- where the government can't restrict speech based on point of view. The organizaton also said Paxton used the account for official purposes, such as announcing and defending his policies.
“Attorney General Paxton’s tweets have become an important source of news and information about his work,” the complaint alleged. “Further, the comment threads associated with the tweets have become important forums for speech by, to, and about Attorney General Paxton.”
The claims in the complaint were similar to allegations made by the Knight Institute against former President Donald Trump, who also was sued for blocking Twitter users.
A trial judge and federal appellate court sided against Trump, ruling that he engaged in viewpoint-based discrimination by blocking people who criticized with him. That ruling was later vacated by the Supreme Court, on the grounds that the dispute became moot after Trump left office.
But not all judges have sided against public officials in disputes over blocks on social media. Earlier this year, a panel of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a state lawmaker, Rep. Cheri Toalson Reisch, didn't violate the First Amendment by blocking a critic on Twitter. In that case, the judges compared Reisch's Twitter account to a campaign newsletter, and said she was the right “to select her audience and present her page as she sees fit.”
And late last month, a federal judge in Colorado refused to order Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colorado) to stop blocking a former state lawmaker on Twitter. In that case, the judge concluded Boebert's use of Twitter doesn't amount to governmental action, and that the Twitter block therefore probably doesn't violate the First Amendment.