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Supreme Court Struggles With Social Media Cases

By    |   Tuesday, 31 October 2023 05:56 PM EDT

The Supreme Court struggled with the issue of social media use by public officials on Tuesday, hearing appeals of two rulings that could alter the future of online exchanges between public officials and constituents.

According to The Hill, the cases involved social media blocks by a city manager in Michigan and two school board officials in California.

The justices grappled with the issue of applying the First Amendment to the digital world over approximately three hours of arguments, and seemed to struggle with striking a balance at times.

"This is a case where there are First Amendment issues on both sides," Justice Elena Kagan said according to The Hill, referring to the public officials and their constituents.

Central to the argument is whether a public official is engaging in government action when they block someone on their personal social media profile when personal and job-related posts are mixed.

According to The Hill, lower courts came to opposite conclusions on the issue. The court looked at the "appearance and purpose" of the social media accounts to declare them state action in one case, while the lower court in the other case found that state action requires that state duty or authority be exercised.

Several justices observed that elected officials are essentially always on the clock and expressed concern that an overly broad ruling could have a chilling effect on their speech.

"This discussion does seem like it has coalesced around an understanding of duties and authorities, and there's some discussion about how capacious that has to be," Justice Neil Gorsuch reportedly said.

The questioning examined the inner workings of social media and Justice Brett Kavanaugh reiterated the need to provide "practical" guidance to local officials around the country.

"They need a clear answer," he said, according to The Hill.

The first case came about after Poway, Calif., school board members Michelle O'Connor-Ratcliff and T.J. Zane blocked parents of children in the district on their Facebook pages and O'Connor-Ratcliff's X account, which was then known as Twitter.

Citing court filings, The Hill reported that Christopher and Kimberly Garnier had commented on the pages hundreds of times and included accusations of financial mismanagement and racist incidents. The Garnier family has since moved to another part of the country and the children no longer attend school in the district.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reportedly sided with the Garniers and struck down the blocks by the school board officials, which the court said ran afoul of the First Amendment.

A similar case considered by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals resulted in a favorable ruling for the local official, however.

In that case, James Freed, the city manager of Port Huron, Mich., had deleted negative Facebook comments by resident Kevin Lindke and had blocked three of Lindke's Facebook profiles. The comments were critical of Freed's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Hill reported.

Rulings in the cases are expected by the end of June.

Nicole Wells

Nicole Wells, a Newsmax general assignment reporter covers news, politics, and culture. She is a National Newspaper Association award-winning journalist.

© 2024 Newsmax. All rights reserved.


Newsfront
The Supreme Court struggled with the issue of social media use by public officials on Tuesday, hearing appeals of two rulings that could alter the future of online exchanges between public officials and constituents.
supreme court, justices, social media, free speech, block, first amendment
494
2023-56-31
Tuesday, 31 October 2023 05:56 PM
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