Federal District Court Rules Against Missouri State Representative Who Blocked Critical Constituent on Twitter

On Friday, August 16, 2019, Judge Brian C. Wimes of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri ruled that Mike Campbell was deprived of his constitutional right to free speech when Missouri Representative Cheri Toalson Reisch blocked Campbell from her Twitter page after Campbell retweeted a comment criticizing Reisch’s political views. Judge Wimes granted Campbell’s request for declaratory and injunctive relief against Reisch under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. 

Judge Wimes found that Reisch’s Twitter account was created in connection with Reisch’s 2015 candidacy for the 44th District of the Missouri House. Further, Judge Wimes found that the Twitter account was used to routinely tweet or retweet about Reisch’s work as a state representative. In June of 2018, Reisch used her account to tweet about a political opponent’s supposed lack of patriotism at a Boone County, Missouri Farm Bureau event. Campbell retweeted Representative Kip Kendrick’s tweet defending Reisch’s opponent’s patriotism to provide “context for what [Reisch] was tweeting out into the public sphere.” Reisch then blocked Campbell from her Twitter account.

In an analysis of the facts under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Judge Wimes found that Campbell’s retweet is protected speech because it does not fall within the unprotected categories of speech as outlined by free speech jurisprudence. Next, Judge Wimes concluded that Reisch’s Twitter account is subject to forum analysis because Reisch “controls the content of her tweets and can, through blocking, prevent other Twitter users like [Campbell] from accessing the interactive space of [Reisch]’s tweets.” Further, because Reisch’s account is sufficiently controlled by Reisch in her capacity as a state legislator, her account is government-controlled and subject to forum analysis. Judge Wimes concluded that Reisch’s account is a designated public forum because Reisch used the account to tweet about campaign events, promote her political agenda, and to comment about political positions.

After forum analysis, Judge Wimes set to “determine whether [Reisch]’s blocking of [Campbell]. . . was content-neutral, necessary to serve a significant interest, and narrowly drawn to achieve that interest.” In this analysis, Judge Wimes found that Reisch’s blocking of Campbell was not content neutral in light of the facts. Because of the multitude of facts pointing to Reisch’s use of her account in her capacity as a public official, Judge Wimes found that Reisch’s blocking of Campbell was under color of state law.

Reisch deleted her Twitter account. In a statement after the ruling, Reisch said that the judgment “impacts not only me but all public servants who simply want to avoid the ugly name-calling and vitriol that are too often present on social media.”

Additional Reading

Judge Rules Against Missouri Lawmaker Who Blocked Twitter Critic, Courthouse News Service (August 19, 2019)

Campbell v. Reisch (Case No. 2:2018cv04129)