Judge to rule on Merrill's blocking of Twitter users

A federal judge will decide if Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill can block people on his personal Twitter account or if doing so violates their free speech rights

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- A federal judge will decide if Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill can block people on his personal Twitter account or if doing so violates their free speech rights.

Merrill and the plaintiffs in the 2018 lawsuit filed motions last month supporting their respective claims. The Alabama case is similar to litigation filed against President Donald Trump. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan in July agreed with a lower court judge who said Trump violates the First Amendment when he blocks critics

The lawsuit filed by blocked Twitter users contends that Merrill is putting a "viewpoint-based restriction" to information about, and interaction with, his public office. The three plaintiffs said Merrill had blocked them from his Twitter account “because of opinions they expressed or questions they asked.”

“Allowing public officials such as Merrill to block individuals from their public social media accounts if they post replies which the public officials find ’annoying'or ’harassing' would run afoul of the very liberties protected by the First Amendment," lawyers for the plaintiffs wrote in a December court filing.

In a separate filing last month, lawyers for Merrill argued that the account is personal, not an official account of the state office. They said people have other means of contacting him, including his office phone and cellphone and the office Twitter account. He asked the judge for a summary judgment in his favor. Merrill has said he lists his cellphone number on his office business card that he hands out to the public.

“The plaintiffs have no First Amendment right to communicate through the defendant’s private Twitter account. They have no constitutional right to force the defendant to listen to their comments," lawyers for Merrill wrote.

Randall Marshall, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, said Thursday that the briefing in the case is complete and they are waiting on a decision from the judge.