By MORGAN LEE, Associated Press
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A lawsuit claiming that New Mexico county commissioner and Cowboys for Trump cofounder Couy Griffin engaged in “viewpoint” discrimination could be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court in a test case for free-speech rights on social media platforms.
Chaplain and local Democratic Party leader Jeff Swanson lost a federal appeals court ruling in February in a lawsuit claiming he was blocked by Griffin from social media discussions about public county business on Griffin’s Facebook page.
Swanson, a Marine veteran, says he was blocked in a viewpoint-discriminatory fashion after criticizing Griffin about the upkeep of a courthouse and urging Griffin not to mix politics and religion. Swanson’s attorney on June 6 confirmed the petition to the Supreme Court, which has not said whether it will take the case.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver in February sided with Griffin in the dispute over his social media account and whether it functioned as a public forum concerning county affairs, with implied guarantees to public access and free speech. The appeals court in the dispute found no clearly established right to First Amendment free-speech protections for public discussions on social media platforms.
Advocacy groups including the ACLU assert that First Amendment rights should apply to social media accounts when a public officials use accounts as an extensions of their office. Griffin has said that he used his Facebook page to express personal opinions as just one member of a three-member county commission.
The dispute emerged in 2019 — long before Griffin, an elected commissioner in southern New Mexico’s Otero County — was suspended indefinitely from social media accounts, including Facebook, following his arrest in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.
Griffin was convicted of illegally entering restricted U.S. Capitol grounds, where he appeared on an outdoor terrace and tried to lead the crowd in prayer without entering the building. He was acquitted of engaging in disorderly conduct during the riot that disrupted Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s presidential election victory.
Griffin is not running for reelection in November.
The Free Speech Center newsletter offers a digest of First Amendment and news media-related news every other week. Subscribe for free here: https://bit.ly/3kG9uiJ