(Reuters) – A federal appeals court said Monday that a Virginia politician violated the constitution by temporarily blocking a criticism of his Facebook page, a move that could affect President Donald Trump's appeal against a similar decision. New York.
A woman looks at the Facebook logo on an iPad in this picture taken June 3, 2018. REUTERS / Regis Duvignau / Illustration / Photo File
In a 3-0 decision, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals said that Phyllis Randall, chairman of the Loudoun County Controllers Council, had violated the First Amendment's freedom of expression rights. from Brian Davison by banning him for 12 hours from his president "Phyllis J. Randall".
The ban came after Davison attended a public meeting in 2016, and then under his Facebook profile, "Virginia SGP," accused school board members and their loved ones of corruption and conflict. interests. Randall had also removed his original message and all his comments, including Davison's.
Circuit Judge James Wynn rejected Randall's argument that his Facebook page was a private website, claiming that the "interactive component" was a public forum and that it discriminated against illegal point of view.
Davison's speech "occupies the heart of the protection afforded by the First Amendment," writes Wynn.
The decision of the Richmond Court of Appeal in Virginia upheld a 2017 ruling by US District Judge James Cacheris in Alexandria.
A Randall lawyer did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Katie Fallow, a lawyer from the Knight First Amendment Institute of Columbia University, who represented Davison, said that public officials "have no more license to suppress online opinions."
The lower courts do not agree on whether the social media pages of government officials are public forums.
The Davison case was the first of its kind on federal appeal, and other courts could refer to it as a precedent.
In a case also filed by the Knight Institute, Trump asked the second US Court of Appeals in Manhattan to overturn a May 2018 ruling by US District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald that he could not block Twitter reviews from his @RealDonaldTrump account.
The Justice Ministry, which represents Trump, described Buchwald's decision as "fundamentally ill-conceived".
He added that the President uses the Twitter account for personal purposes to disseminate his views, not to provide a platform for public discussion, and that the First Amendment does not require him to receive messages that He does not wish to hear.
Trump opened the account in 2009 and has over 57 million followers. The argument on appeal has not been scheduled.
The case is as follows: Davison v Randall, Court of Appeal of the 4th US Circuit, Nos. 17-2002, 17-2003.
Report by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Edited by Frances Kerry and Alistair Bell