A Colorado state lawmaker who was sued earlier this year in federal court by the ACLU has agreed to unblock a constituent on Facebook and Twitter and no longer block people on social media as part of a settlement.
But that’s not exactly the outcome the civil rights organization was hoping for.
The settlement in the case involving state Sen. Ray Scott, a Mesa County Republican, will end up costing taxpayers about $25,000 in attorneys fees for Anne Landman, the woman who sued the lawmaker after he blocked her in 2017. In exchange for the payment, Scott will unblock Landman on Twitter and Facebook and promises never to ban people from his official social media pages again, the ACLU said in announcing the agreement on Friday.
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But the ACLU, which represented Landman in the case, was really hoping for a federal judge to issue a ruling that would once and for all bar being in public office in Colorado from blocking people on social media accounts linked to their official roles. Though there have been at least four settlements in similar cases, there has not been a court ruling explicitly outlawing the practice.
“I still think that we need a judge in Colorado to rule that this type of behavior is unconstitutional,” said Sara Neel, an ACLU lawyer who worked on the case.
That’s not to say Neel isn’t happy with the settlement. She said it served as another warning to public officials that blocking people on social media will not end in their favor.
“It’s still happening and the more we can bring attention to it the better,” she said.
The issue of public officials blocking people on social media has reached the highest office in the U.S., with a federal court ruling that President Donald Trump cannot bar access to his pages. But no judge in Colorado has officially outlawed the practice, which in other states has been ruled to violate people’s Constitutional rights to participate in government.
The hope was that the Scott case would result in clear guidance from a federal judge in Colorado to be followed by state courts.
Landman claimed she was barred from Scott’s Twitter and Facebook pages in 2017 after she posted an article on her blog titled “Ray Scott Shocks Constituents with Displays of Poor Grammar, Lack of Knowledge in Social Media Exchanges” and then shared it on Scott’s official Facebook page.
Earlier this year, Senate President Leroy Garcia was sued over his decision to block someone from commenting on his Facebook page in a case that resulted in a $25,000 settlement at taxpayers’ expense.
Former Lafayette Mayor Christine Berg and Thornton Mayor Pro Tem and City Council member Jan Kulmann were challenged in court for similar reasons. Including attorney fees, those cases were settled for $20,000 and $30,000 respectively, court documents show.
Scott said immediately after the lawsuit was filed he unblocked Landman.
“Unfortunately, the ACLU decided it also wanted to line its coffers with taxpayer funds,” he said. “… I hope the courts soon come to a conclusion on this silliness as it has created an opening for abusive litigation like the ACLU just engaged in.”
Scott is running for Mesa County commissioner next year, which — if successful — would mean that he would vacate his seat halfway through his second four-year term in the Senate.