The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit today agreed that public officials who use social media accounts to further their official duties must comply with the First Amendment, and cannot block people from those accounts based on viewpoint. At the same time, it held that the defendant state legislator in the case did not use her account for official duties and thus did not violate the First Amendment when she blocked a constituent from her campaign Twitter account.
This is the third federal appeals court to adopt the same general framework for evaluating social media blocking by government officials, after the Second Circuit in the Knight Institute’s lawsuit against former President Trump, and the Fourth Circuit in another case argued by the Institute involving a local official.
In the Eighth Circuit’s case, Campbell v. Reisch, the court held in a 2-1 decision that a Missouri state representative did not violate the First Amendment when she blocked individuals from her Twitter account because, in the majority’s view, the account was “used overwhelmingly for campaign purposes,” not for her official duties.
Judge Jane L. Kelly dissented, noting that she would have held that the legislator’s account was a public forum based on evidence that the legislator used her campaign account for official business after being elected and that the blocking of the plaintiff was unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.
Although the majority believed that the legislator continued to use the account as a campaign, not an official, account, they agreed with Judge Kelly that “[a] private account can turn into a governmental one if it becomes an organ of official business.”
In a tweet, the Knight Institute’s senior staff attorney Katie Fallow wrote, “Three federal circuits now agree on the fundamental premise that public officials who use social media accounts for official purposes must comply with the First Amendment.”