GOP Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton Sued for Blocking People on Twitter

Free speech advocacy groups filed a lawsuit on Thursday on behalf of nine Texans who have been blocked from the Twitter account of state Attorney General Ken Paxton after they criticized him or his polices on the platform.

The lawsuit, seen by Newsweek, was filed by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and American Civil Liberties Union of Texas (ACLU). It argues that Paxton's practice of blocking critics from his Twitter account violates the First Amendment.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to order the Texas Attorney General to unblock the nine individuals and anyone else he has blocked because of views they have expressed on the platform.

"Multiple courts have recognized that government officials who use their social media accounts for official purposes violate the First Amendment if they block people from those accounts on the basis of viewpoint," Katie Fallow, a senior staff attorney with the Knight First Amendment Institute, said in a statement posted to the institute website.

"People shouldn't be excluded from these important democratic forums simply because an official doesn't like what they have to say."

The Twitter account that the lawsuit refers to—@KenPaxtonTX—is not the official account for the Office of the Texas Attorney General. But as the lawsuit explains, Paxton uses the @KenPaxtonTX account to announce, describe and defend his policies and legal challenges brought by his office.

Paxton, a Republican, also uses the account to comment on national and local issues, as well as sharing media appearances and interviews related to his official duties.

"This information is relevant not just to the residents of Texas but to Americans more generally, given the national scope of many of the matters the Texas Attorney General's office tackles," the lawsuit says. "Those who are blocked from the @KenPaxtonTX account are impeded in their ability to learn information that is shared only through that account."

The individual plaintiffs named in the lawsuit include a journalist, a communications project assistant, a U.S. Army veteran, a director of a Texas non-profit, an immigration advocate, a sales representative, an attorney and two students.

The individuals were blocked by Paxton after criticizing the Texas Attorney General, according to the lawsuit. Some took aim at his qualifications and policies, while others commented on his multiple felony indictments.

One Twitter user found themselves blocked after replying "wear a mask nerd" below an image that Paxton had posted of himself and another individual at the Conservative Political Action Conference with neither were wearing face coverings.

"Attorney General Paxton is preventing Texans from exercising their First Amendment rights. He cannot bar them from directly expressing their criticisms of his policies and qualifications by blocking them on Twitter," Kate Huddleston, attorney for the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement.

"This is yet another example of the Attorney General's many violations of Texans' civil rights and liberties and an authoritarian effort to suppress speech with which he disagrees."

The lawsuit filed against Paxton is not the first in which people have sued public officials for blocking them on Twitter over views expressed on the platform. Both the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second and Fourth Circuits have held that public officials who block people from their official social media accounts due to their viewpoints are violating the First Amendment.

Recently, the Knight First Amendment Institute sued then President Donald Trump for blocking some Twitter users after they criticized him on the platform. The Second Circuit held that Trump could not block users from his @realDonaldTrump account because he "he disagree[d] with their speech."

Newsweek has contacted the Office of the Texas Attorney General for comment.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton
Ken Paxton, Texas Attorney General, speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference on February 27, 2021 in Orlando, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images