A federal judge has ordered state Rep. Ginny Ehrhart to stop blocking and deleting comments from those with opposing views on her official Facebook page.
U.S. District Judge J.P. Boulee found that the Powder Springs Republican’s blocks and deletions infringed upon the First Amendment rights of retired communications software executive Thomas Biedermann.
Biedermann filed suit in March 2020 after Ehrhart deleted his disapproving comments to her post about her legislation to criminalize transgender surgeries performed on children. Biedermann, who used the pseudonym Tom Alfred, was then blocked from her legislative Facebook page.
Boulee’s ruling noted that Ehrhart has blocked more than 60 people from the Facebook page and that they have joined together on social media calling themselves #blockedbyginny.
In granting Biedermann a preliminary injunction, Boulee noted that Ehrhart has both a personal and a legislative Facebook page. The official page “was used in furtherance of (Ehrhart’s) work as a government official,” he wrote. “Further, the official Facebook page was open to the public and, at the very least, the interactive component of the official Facebook page invited a public exchange of views.”
In court filings, Ehrhart conceded that she periodically removed from the official page objectionable content that did not align with the image or message she wished to convey to the public, Boulee said.
He also found there is a substantial likelihood that Biedermann will establish that Ehrhart’s blocks and deletions constitute “viewpoint discrimination in a public forum in violation of (Biedermann’s) First Amendment right to freedom of speech and expression.”
Ehrhart had argued that an injunction would be damaging to her because her official Facebook page could be flooded with posts, thwarting her ability to communicate with her constituents and the public in the way she deems best.
But Boulee wrote that “an ongoing infringement of (Biedermann’s) constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression outweighs (Ehrhart’s) desire to exclude opposing public viewpoints from the official Facebook page.” This is particularly true considering Ehrhart “has alternative options to communicate her message within constitutional boundaries, such as disabling public comments or responses on her posts altogether,” the judge said.
“Public officials who silence their constituents on social media demonstrate their desire to hear only from their choir,” Biedermann’s lawyer, Gerry Weber, said. “This ruling is great for free speech and also for democracy.”
Ehrhart’s lawyers declined to comment, and Ehrhart did not respond when asked for comment.
Boulee also ordered both sides to try and resolve the rest of the case through mediation, either using a private mediator or a U.S. magistrate to do so.
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