Tag Archives: ACLU

Congressman Unblocks Social Media Critics After Legal Threat from ACLU-PA May 14, 2018

ACLU-PA, 5/14/18

But the ACLU Continues to Investigate Complaints

PHILADELPHIA – At the urging of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, U.S. Representative Ryan Costello of Chester County has agreed to unblock constituents from his official Facebook page, the civil liberties group announced in a statement today.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania sent Costello a letter in March on behalf of nine constituents threatening potential legal action over the congressman’s frequent blocking of his critics on his official Facebook page and viewpoint-based exclusion of constituents from his town hall meetings, which the ACLU explained undermined the constituents’ First Amendment free speech rights. The constituents who were blocked by Costello had expressed their opinions to him on a wide range of issues, including net neutrality, the environment, his support of President Trump, and his unwillingness to condemn racist, alt-right rhetoric.

“Democracy is noisy, and the right to free speech ensures that government officials hear what the people have to say,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Our system of governance can’t work properly if elected officials cut off their constituents’ access in response to criticism.”

In response to the ACLU’s letter, the congressman’s staff also confirmed that they had blacklisted two of the constituents named in the letter from attending a January 2018 town hall meeting based on statements made by the constituents that the congressman’s staff considered “threats.” In follow-up discussions with Costello’s staff, the ACLU noted that the congressman’s staff had failed to identify any legitimate basis for deeming any of the named constituents security threats and reminded Costello in a subsequent letter that prohibiting their attendance at future events based on their views will lead to a lawsuit.

“Our constitutional rights can only be protected when people are willing to stand up and say, ‘This is not right,’” said Molly Tack-Hooper, staff attorney at the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “We are grateful that our clients were willing to speak out publicly—not only to defend their own rights, but to raise awareness about this problem and preserve everyone’s right to contact their representatives without fear of retaliation.”…

keep reading at ACLU-PA

ACLU of PA to Congressman: Stop Shutting Out Your Constituents

ACLU, March 12, 2018 [elevator version: Can a political officeholder legally obstruct criticism by banning constituents from speaking their views in his public meetings and social media?]

PHILADELPHIA – The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania delivered a letter to Congressman Ryan Costello today urging him to stop blocking constituents who disagree with him from his official Facebook page and to cease denying them entry to his public town hall meetings. Writing on behalf of nine constituents from the 6th congressional district who have protested or criticized the congressman, the ACLU of Pennsylvania warned Costello that blocking residents from his social media pages and his community meetings based on their opposing views is prohibited by the First Amendment.

“In our democratic form of government, an elected official represents all of his constituents–even those who disagree with him,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “We commend Congressman Costello for creating forums for his constituents to express their views, but he does not have the right to pick and choose which viewpoints he gets to hear.”

The constituents who have been blocked by Costello have expressed their opinions to him on a wide range of issues, including net neutrality, the environment, his support of President Trump, and his unwillingness to condemn racist, alt-right rhetoric. Most of the constituents named in the ACLU’s letter have been prohibited from commenting on Costello’s Facebook page, and at least three were denied admission to his town hall meetings, including one in Wyomissing, Berks County, where there were empty seats.

The letter from the ACLU cites Supreme Court precedent explaining that the First Amendment prohibits public officials from censoring speech based on the viewpoint expressed. The ACLU has offered Costello the opportunity to take corrective action but has also left open the possibility of filing a lawsuit against the congressman.

“Our clients simply want to be heard by their elected representative in Congress, and to have the same access to the congressman’s social media pages and events as his other constituents,” said Molly Tack-Hooper, staff attorney with the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “It’s unconstitutional for a member of Congress to censor, block, and exclude his critics.”

The residents cited in the letter are represented by Tack-Hooper, Witold J. Walczak, and Michelin Cahill of the ACLU of Pennsylvania and Professor Seth F. Kreimer of the University of Pennsylvania Law School. The letter that was sent to Costello is available at aclupa.org/Costello.

Whitewood v. Corbett

ACLU, July 9, 2013

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the American Civil Liberties Union, and volunteer counsel from the law firm of Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller have filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of 21 Pennsylvanians who wish to marry in Pennsylvania or want the Commonwealth to recognize their out-of-state marriages. The lawsuit alleges that Pennsylvania’s Defense of Marriage Act and refusal to marry lesbian and gay couples or recognize their out-of-state marriages violates the fundamental right to marry as well as the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. …

read more at ACLU