4th Circuit: County official’s Facebook page is a public forum, must accept all.
A federal appeals court in Virginia ruled unanimously Monday that a county official who blocked a citizen from accessing her official Facebook page is in violation of the First Amendment.
The case—which was heard before the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals—found that Phyllis Randall, the chair of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, improperly blocked a man named Brian Davison on Facebook for 12 hours back in February 2016.
During one town hall meeting involving Randall, Davison had suggested that some financial improprieties were afoot. Within hours, Davison left a lengthy Facebook post on Randall’s page, and she banned him. The next day, she reversed course and unbanned him, but his post remained deleted.
Not long after, Davison sued, alleging violations of his constitutional rights, and he eventually won at trial. The county chair then appealed to the 4th Circuit, which ultimately ruled that Randall’s Facebook page “bear[s] the hallmarks of a public forum,” where public speech—however undesirable—cannot be discriminated against.
Before the 4th Circuit, Davison was represented by lawyers at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, an organization that is also representing users blocked on Twitter by President Donald Trump. That case remains on appeal before the 2nd Circuit.
“The Supreme Court should consider further the reach of the First Amendment in the context of social media,” US District Judge Barbara Milano Keenan wrote in a concurrence seeking further guidance in situations related to this one.