Supreme Court Conflicted Over Sticky 1st Amendment Case

The Supreme Court recently wrestled with the problem of public officials’ use of social media, considering appeals of two cases that might affect the future of public officials’ online interactions with citizens.

A Michigan municipal manager and a pair of school board members in California were allegedly engaged in ’blocking’ incidents on social media.

Reports show that during the three hours of debate, the judges struggled to weigh extending the First Amendment to include the Internet. Public officials and the citizens they serve experience First Amendment difficulties, according to Justice Elena Kagan.

The question boils down to whether a public figure is taking government action by blocking people on their individual social media pages with mixed personal and work postings.

Lower courts reached different verdicts, a report said. One court declared social media accounts state action based on their appearance and purpose, whereas the lower court’s decision determined in the other case that state authority should be exercised.

Several judges noted that those in office are constantly ‘at work’ and worried that a wide finding may constrain their free speech.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh questioned social media’s inner workings and stressed the necessity for “practical” advice for local leaders. They deserve a clear explanation, said Kavanaugh.

In the first case, Poway, California school board members T.J. Zane and Michelle O’Connor-Ratcliff banned district parents from viewing and commenting on their Facebook and X accounts.

A report citing court records showed that Christopher and Kimberly Garnier had submitted hundreds of comments on the sites, including claims of financial mismanagement and racism.

The Garnier family have moved out of the area, and their children no longer attend school there.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concurred with the Garniers and overturned the school board’s First Amendment-violating restrictions.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the municipality official in a similar case.

In that specific case, City Manager James Freed of Port Huron, Michigan, erased unfavorable remarks by local Kevin Lindke and blocked three of Lindke’s social media pages. Reports showed that the remarks criticized Freed’s response to the COVID-19 epidemic.

Rulings will be made in June 2024.