SACRAMENTO — The ACLU Foundation of Northern California along with the law firm Rogers Joseph O’Donnell today filed suit on behalf of Black Lives Matter leaders who were unlawfully blocked from Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones’ official Facebook page.
Tanya Faison and Sonia Lewis, co-leaders of Black Lives Matter Sacramento, have been vocal critics of the sheriff and other law enforcement officials over the past several years. After a report was published critical of the sheriff’s department in the death of Mikel McIntyre, one of several black men killed by Sacramento deputies, Sheriff Jones responded by refusing to allow any investigation of his deputies. Sheriff Jones used his official Facebook page to seek support for his actions and criticize his opponents, including BLM. In October and November, Faison and Lewis posted criticism of Sheriff Jones’ resistance on his Facebook page. In response, Jones deleted their comments and then blocked them.
“This attempt to silence us shows how little the sheriff values Black lives and the movement to combat injustice and inequality,” said Faison, who remains blocked and unable to comment. “It is our role to call public attention to state violence and racist policing whether the sheriff likes it or not.”
Sean Riordan, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Foundation of Northern California, said the local leaders have the right to criticize the sheriff under both state and federal constitutions.
“The sheriff’s decision to silence them based on their views violates their free speech rights, undermines public trust of government, and offends democratic values,” Riordan said. “Free speech must be protected from government censorship on social media just as it is in a public meeting or any forum where people debate politics, religion, and other social issues. The methods may change but the protections of the Constitution don’t.”
A growing number of courts are affirming that First Amendment protections apply to governments social media pages and accounts. The ACLU has sued public officials in several other states, including governors in Maine and Maryland, after they blocked constituents on their official pages. In May, a federal court in New York ruled that President Trump violated the First Amendment by blocking Twitter users based on the content of their speech. Earlier this month, the federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the interactive portion of a public official’s Facebook page is a “public forum,” so an official cannot block people based on opinions they hold.
The ACLU is seeking a ruling declaring Jones’ actions violate the First Amendment and California Constitution, an injunction requiring Jones to unblock Faison and Lewis, and damages.
“This case is about ensuring that every voice is heard,” said John Heller of Rogers Joseph O’Donnell. “The First Amendment requires no less.”
The case, Faison v. Jones, was filed in the Sacramento Division of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California.