The Supreme Court is seen in Washington, Thursday, March 7,...

The Supreme Court is seen in Washington, Thursday, March 7, 2024, as President Joe Biden prepares to deliver his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress. Democrats are eager to demonstrate how the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade has limited reproductive rights. Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite

WASHINGTON — A unanimous Supreme Court ruled Friday that public officials can sometimes be sued for blocking their critics on social media, an issue that first arose for the high court in a case involving then-President Donald Trump.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett, writing for the court, said that officials who use personal accounts to make official statements may not be free to delete comments about those statements or block critics altogether.

On the other hand, Barrett wrote, “State officials have private lives and their own constitutional rights.”

The court ruled in two cases involving lawsuits filed by people who were blocked after leaving critical comments on social media accounts belonging to school board members in Southern California and a city manager in Port Huron, Michigan, northeast of Detroit. They are similar to a case involving Trump and his decision to block critics from his personal account on Twitter, now known as X. The justices dismissed the case after Trump left office in January 2021.

The cases forced the court to deal with the competing free speech rights of public officials and their constituents, all in a rapidly evolving virtual world. They are among five social media cases on the court's docket this term.

Appeals courts in San Francisco and Cincinnati had reached conflicting decisions about when personal accounts become official, and the high court did not embrace either ruling, returning the cases to the appeals courts to apply the standard the justices laid out Friday.

“When a government official posts about job-related topics on social media, it can be difficult to tell whether the speech is official or private,” Barrett said.

The Supreme Court is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington,...

The Supreme Court is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 4, 2024. Federal courts moved Tuesday, March 12, to make it harder to file lawsuits in front of judges seen as friendly to a point of view, a practice known as judge shopping that gained national attention in a major abortion-medication case. That ruling has been halted by the Supreme Court. Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite

Officials must have the authority to speak on behalf of their governments and intend to use it for their posts to be regarded essentially as the government's, Barrett wrote. In such cases, they have to allow criticism, or risk being sued, she wrote.

In one case, James Freed, who was appointed the Port Huron city manager in 2014, used the Facebook page he first created while in college to communicate with the public, as well as recount the details of daily life.

In 2020, a resident, Kevin Lindke, used the page to comment several times from three Facebook profiles, including criticism of the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Freed blocked all three accounts and deleted Lindke’s comments. Lindke sued, but the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Freed, noting that his Facebook page talked about his roles as “father, husband, and city manager.”

The other case involved two elected members of a California school board, the Poway Unified School District Board of Trustees. The members, Michelle O’Connor-Ratcliff and T.J. Zane, used their personal Facebook and Twitter accounts to communicate with the public. Two parents, Christopher and Kimberly Garnier, left critical comments and replies to posts on the board members’ accounts and were blocked. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the board members had violated the parents’ free speech rights by doing so. Zane no longer serves on the school board.

The Supreme Court is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington,...

The Supreme Court is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, March 4, 2024, where the justices restored Donald Trump to 2024 presidential primary ballots, rejecting state attempts to hold the Republican former president accountable for the Capitol riot. Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite

The court's other social media cases have a more partisan flavor. The justices are evaluating Republican-passed laws in Florida and Texas that prohibit large social media companies from taking down posts because of the views they express. The tech companies said the laws violate their First Amendment rights. The laws reflect a view among Republicans that the platforms disproportionately censor conservative viewpoints.

Next week, the court is hearing a challenge from Missouri and Louisiana to the Biden administration’s efforts to combat controversial social media posts on topics including COVID-19 and election security. The states argue that the Democratic administration has been unconstitutionally coercing the platforms into cracking down on conservative positions.

The cases decided Friday are O’Connor-Ratcliff v. Garnier, 22-324, and Lindke v. Freed, 22-611.

Get the latest news and more great videos at NewsdayTV Credit: Newsday

Pool safety for adults ... New adventure park in Westbury ... Get the latest news and more great videos at NewsdayTV

Get the latest news and more great videos at NewsdayTV Credit: Newsday

Pool safety for adults ... New adventure park in Westbury ... Get the latest news and more great videos at NewsdayTV

Latest videos

YOU'VE BEEN SELECTED

FOR OUR BEST OFFER ONLY 25¢ for 5 months

Unlimited Digital Access.

cancel anytime.