Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has agreed to stop blocking constituents from following his personal Twitter account after a federal lawsuit argued the attorney general violated the First Amendment rights of Texans when he banned them from viewing his tweets, according to a federal court filing in Austin.
In April, the Knight First Amendment Institute, along with the ACLU of Texas, filed a federal complaint claiming that Paxton violated the constitutional rights of nine individuals listed on the lawsuit when he blocked them from his Twitter page. The lawsuit argued that Paxton's Twitter account is a public forum and banning critics deprives those who remain in the public forum the chance to hear opposition voices.
"We're pleased that Attorney General Paxton has agreed to stop blocking people from his Twitter account simply because he doesn't like what they have to say," said Katie Fallow, senior counsel at the Knight First Amendment Institute said in a prepared statement. "Multiple courts have recognized that government officials who use their social media accounts for official purposes violate the First Amendment if they block people from those accounts on the basis of viewpoint. What Paxton was doing was unconstitutional," she added.
Paxton's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
"It shouldn't have taken a lawsuit for Attorney General Paxton to comply with the Constitution and respect Texans' right to their free speech, including their right to criticize his policies and qualifications in their responses to his tweets," said Kattie Huddleston, attorney for the ACLU of Texas, in a statement.
The lawsuit alleged that Paxton blocked the nine individuals, including the accounts of Mario Carril, who is the campaign manager for a pro-immigration group and Joseph Cascino, who is president of College Democrats at the University of Texas at Austin, for criticizing the attorney general and his policies.
The plaintiffs further claimed that Paxton's purging habits on Twitter appeared to be "widespread" and only impacted constituents who did not agree with his policies. "It imposes 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 lawsuit claimed.
While the @KenPaxtonTX handle is the personal account for the attorney general, the lawsuit said Paxton uses the account in an official capacity by announcing, describing, and defending his policies, as well as commenting on national and local issues and sharing appearances related to his official duties.
Paxton's personal account also has nearly twice as many followers and and twice as many tweets posted. Both the personal account and the official account @TXAG have been active since June 2009.
According to the Knight Institute, Paxton unblocked the nine plaintiffs in May after the lawsuit was filed. Paxton also unblocked all other accounts that had been previously blocked by the @KexPaxtonTX handle and agreed to not block users from the account based on their viewpoints in the future, according to the court documents.