AUSTIN, Tex. (UPI) — A group of Texans have filed a lawsuit against the state’s attorney general, Ken Paxton, accusing him of violating their First Amendment rights by blocking them on Twitter.
Filed Thursday on behalf of nine Texans by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the lawsuit accuses Paxton of unconstitutionally blocking the plaintiffs who criticized him on the social media platform.
The Knight Institute is also a plaintiff in the case, stating it has been denied access to the speech of those nine Texans when Paxton blocked them.
“Attorney General Paxton is preventing Texans from exercising their First Amendment rights,” Kate Huddleston, attorney for the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement. “He cannot bar them from directly expressing their criticisms of his policies and qualifications by blocking them on Twitter.”
The attorney general uses two Twitter accounts — @KenPaxtonTX and the official @TXAG, which is owned by the state of Texas — and the lawsuit states that Paxton has used his personal Twitter account to disseminate state news and information that was not communicated through the official attorney general account.
The nine plaintiffs said they were blocked by Paxton’s @KenPaxtonTX account after criticizing him, his policies, or his qualifications and that the action by the attorney general bars them from viewing his tweets, replying to them, viewing the comments others have made about them and from participating in the conversation.
The lawsuit states that because of how Paxton uses the @KenPaxtonTX account it has become an important source of information, not only for Texans but for all Americans and that those who are blocked from the account “are impeded in their ability to learn information that is shared only through that account.”
“The @KenPaxtonTX account is a kind of digital town hall in which Attorney General Paxton uses the tweet function to communicate news and information to the public,” the lawsuit argued.
The Knight Institute in July 2017 filed a similar lawsuit against then-President Donald Trump over blocking critics on Twitter that went all the way to the Supreme Court.
On Monday, the justices dismissed the case as moot since Trump was no longer president.
Earlier last month, Twitter filed a lawsuit against Paxton, asking the court to stop him from investigating how it moderates content, accusing the attorney general of “unlawfully abusing his authority as the highest law-enforcement officer of the state of Texas.”
On Jan. 13, days after supporters of then-President Donald Trump sieged the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., Paxton sued Twitter and four other tech companies for their policies regarding content moderation after Google, Amazon, and Apple blocked conservative social media application Parler.
Twitter said Paxton launched his suit in response to its banning of Trump from its platform two days after the insurrection attempt citing “the risk of further incitement of violence.”
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed Thursday include a U.S. Army veteran, a journalist, the director of a nonprofit, an immigration advocate, and two students, among other Texans.
Several of the plaintiffs said they were blocked from Paxton’s account after referencing outstanding felony indictments filed against him for securities fraud and allegations of potential improper influence, abuse of power, and bribery.
“This is yet another example of the attorney general’s may violations of Texans’ civil rights and liberties and an authoritarian effort to suppress speech with which he disagrees,” Huddleston said.
Reporting by Darryl Coote
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