The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has ruled in the case of Deanna Robinson versus Sheriff Randy Meeks, saying official censorship based on a state actor’s subjective judgment that the content of protected speech is offensive or inappropriate is viewpoint discrimination.
Robinson claimed Meeks violated her freedom of speech rights by deleting comments and banning her from a public Facebook page he created and maintained on behalf of the Sheriff’s Office.
Attorney JT Morris, who represents Robinson, said the ruling could have wide implications as public officials increasingly use social media to engage with their constituents. Morris went on to say the ruling will help guide public officials on how to use social media without running afoul of the First Amendment’s prohibition on government officials suppressing speech, according to Texas Lawyer.
According to Texas Lawyer, Robinson and other Facebook users commented critically about the policy that they said censored protected speech. Robinson wrote that degrading or insulting officers was legal, and courts have ruled such speech is protected. The sheriff’s office had no right to delete inappropriate comments and ban people from commenting on the “taxpayer-funded” Facebook page, she wrote. She also made offensive remarks about the office and the deceased officer, the opinion noted.
According to Robinson, deleting her comment and banning her from the page was viewpoint discrimination, retaliation for protected speech and a prior restraint on speech. She went on to argue that she didn’t get due process before her comment was deleted and she was banned.
“We’re certainly looking forward to going back to the district court, so Mrs. Robinson can further protect her First Amendment rights,” Morris told Texas Lawyer.