A federal judge has sided with Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) in a First Amendment lawsuit, allowing the first-time Congresswoman to continue blocking a critic on her personal Twitter account.
Boebert, a vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump, blocked former state Rep. Brianna Buentello, a Democrat, after Buentello criticized Boebert’s remarks in the days leading up to the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol, calling her a “seditionist” and demanding that she resign.
Buentello sued on the basis of First Amendment rights, arguing that Boebert’s Twitter block was not an act of a private individual, but an act on behalf of the state, because Boebert uses her personal Twitter account for announcements related to her works in Congress. She also cited previous cases in which courts ruled that elected officials, including Trump, cannot block constituents. Buentello is a Boebert constituent in Colorado’s Congressional District 3.
Judge Daniel Domenico, a Trump-appointee, rejected Buentello’s request for a preliminary injunction that would have forced Boebert to unblock her. In his June 24 ruling, Domenico said that Buentello failed to prove that Boebert’s blocking her on Twitter was a “state action,” and therefore didn’t have standing to pursue a First Amendment claim.
“Congress, not its individual members, commands the federal government, and it is that body that the First Amendment sought to constrain,” Domenico wrote. “Individual legislators do not have the constitutional power to either make law or abridge speech, and thus their individual actions are not within the First Amendment’s coverage.”
Domenico also noted that Boebert’s account that blocked Buentello is not operated by any government staff, and that Boebert could block Buentello before she was in office and do so after she leaves office. “It is hard to see how the action could be deemed to be one taken under authority created by the state or on its behalf,” he wrote.
The dispute over whether elected officials should be able to block critics on their social media pages gained popularity in 2017, when Trump was sued for blocking people from his personal @realDonaldTrump Twitter account after they criticized his policies. While the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a ruling that Trump cannot block people based on their political views, the U.S. Supreme Court in April dismissed the case against Trump, who is no longer in the White House or on Twitter.
In another widely watched case in 2019, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) was sued by former state Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a Democrat, who said he criticized the Congresswoman on Twitter and was then blocked from her account. The two ended up reaching a settlement, with Ocasio-Cortez publicly apologizing to Hikind, saying that blocking him “was wrong and improper and does not reflect the values I cherish.”