Last January 3, when Texas Attorney General Kenneth Paxton used his @KenPaxtonTX Twitter account to urge people to attend the January 6 “MAGA rally” in Washington, D.C., a local college student took to the social media platform to criticize him.
“Go on and beg for your pardon,” tweeted Joseph Cascino of the University of Texas at Austin, referring to an outstanding indictment against Paxton for felony securities fraud charges and speculation that he was seeking a preemptive pardon from then-President Donald Trump.
The next day, in reply to a new Paxton tweet, Cascino, who tweets from his account @Joecascinotx, sent a second critical message, writing “Enjoy the fresh air before you go to prison, Kenneth!”
Not long after, Cascino realized that the state’s top law enforcement officer had blocked the undergraduate from following his Twitter account.
Three months later, on April 8, Cascino and eight other Texans also blocked from the @KenPaxtonTX account went to court in a lawsuit filed on their behalf by the Knight Institute and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.
They asked the court to declare that Paxton’s practice of blocking critics from his Twitter account violates the First Amendment and to order him to unblock them and anyone else he’s blocked due to their viewpoint.
This week, in response to the Institute’s legal action with ACLU-Texas, Paxton unblocked the nine plaintiffs. “We’re pleased that Attorney General Paxton has agreed to unblock our plaintiffs in this lawsuit and are hopeful that he will do the same for anyone else he has blocked from his Twitter account simply because he doesn’t like what they have to say,” said Katie Fallow, a senior staff attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute.
Here’s some of what unfolded, leading to the initial blocking, for the other plaintiffs, who include a U.S. Army veteran, a journalist, a director of a Texas nonprofit, an immigration advocate, a second college student, a sales representative, a communications project assistant, and an attorney. All have confirmed this week that they’ve been unblocked from Paxton’s account.
Mario Carrillo is a campaign manager with a pro-immigration reform organization.
Carrillo, who often followed Paxton’s Twitter account looking for content on the attorney general’s immigration policies, retweeted a tweet from the @TXAG account last October that said that Attorney General Paxton’s office was exploring options for preventing an El Paso County Judge from issuing a shutdown order in light of COVID-19. Carrillo commented, “The party of local control strikes again. Also, when is court date again @KenPaxtonTX?” referring to Paxton’s outstanding indictment. Carrillo also retweeted a tweet from the @TXAG account regarding Paxton’s guidance to election officials that poll watchers did not need to maintain six feet of social distancing from voters or election workers, commenting, “In case y’all didn’t know, @KenPaxtonTX is a ghoul.”
Justin Champlin is a technology company sales associate.
Champlin was blocked around January 1, 2021, after he replied to a tweet from the @KenPaxtonTX account, in which Paxton wrote: “Join me on America’s Newsroom (Fox News) at 9:30 am CST to discuss the Texas lawsuit against Travis Co. and City of Austin for COVID - related shutdown. #notonmywatch.” He responded to the tweet with “I guess you didn’t try hard enough. What a waste of a hearing. You wasted everyone’s time by sending unprepared lawyers with no basis to their claims.”
Edward Espinoza is the executive director of an organization that promotes progressive messages and policies.
Espinoza, who occasionally responded to Paxton’s tweets by criticizing the attorney general’s policies or political statements, believes he was blocked at the beginning of January 2021, around the time he replied to a tweet from the @KenPaxtonTX account in which Paxton celebrated the Texas Supreme Court’s reversal of an Austin local order closing restaurants and bars in response to COVID-19. Espinoza replied to the tweet, asking if the Texas Supreme Court could “stop the holdup of [Paxton’s] 5+ year felony indictment.” Espinoza added in his tweet, “It should be illegal that you’ve been allowed to evade it for so long.”
Omar Gallaga is a freelance journalist.
Gallaga was blocked after he retweeted a story by the Austin American-Statesman discussing Paxton’s efforts to block results of the 2020 presidential election. Along with the link to the story, Gallaga noted “I have lived in Texas for so long that I remember when people took @KenPaxtonTX seriously.”
Fatima Maniar is a United States Army veteran and a project manager for a health insurance company.
Maniar, who believes she was blocked in late November 2020, followed the @KenPaxtonTX account to stay informed about Paxton’s policies, and, as a single mother, is particularly interested in child support issues, while trying to stay updated on issues related to elections and immigration. . For example, on November 9, 2020, Maniar responded to Paxton’s retweet of a New York Post article about the authorization of investigations into allegations regarding the 2020 election by then-United States Attorney General William Barr. Maniar replied, “1,931 days since you were indicted of 3 felony counts by a grand jury, shouldn’t you be worried about that instead? #PaxtonforJail.”
Jennifer Ramos is a project assistant for a communications firm.
Ramos followed the @KenPaxtonTX account to stay informed about issues, particularly child support, paid sick leave, and immigration, and would occasionally reply to tweets from the @KenPaxtonTX account. She was blocked after she responded on January 20, 2021, to a tweet from the @KenPaxtonTX account about the inauguration of President Joe Biden that declared “I will always stand firm for Texas.” Ramos replied, saying “So can you do us a favor and turn yourself in? You’re indicted and didn’t get pardoned by Trump, after all.”
John Ruffier is a student at the University of Texas, El Paso (UTEP), the president of the UTEP College Democrats, and an office assistant at a medical supply company.
Ruffier, who viewed tweets from the @KenPaxtonTX account to stay informed about the attorney general and his policies, was blocked after he tweeted in reference to Paxton’s outstanding felony indictment, “attorney general ken paxton? more like ‘going to jail!’ am i right kenneth? @KenPaxtonTX.” He also tweeted, “[W]ear a mask nerd” in reply to a tweet from the @KenPaxtonTX account, in which the attorney general retweeted a tweet and photo of himself and another person at the Conservative Political Action Conference, with neither of them wearing masks.
James Scurlock is a civil rights and employment attorney.
Scurlock followed the @KenPaxtonTX account to track the way in which Paxton used taxpayer funds. He was blocked after he replied to a tweet from the @KenPaxtonTX account about mask mandates in Travis County and Austin, writing “You’re indicted.” That same day, Scurlock replied to an International Women’s Day tweet by Paxton that criticized President Biden and Democrats, “You have victimized women. You’re indicted for making women victims of your crimes.”
A. Adam Glenn was a writer/editor at the Knight First Amendment Institute.