June 20, 2018

MONTPELIER—The ACLU of Vermont is demanding Governor Phil Scott stop deleting constituents’ posts and blocking users on his official Facebook page in violation of the state and federal constitutions. The ACLU raised its concerns in a letter to Governor Scott after being contacted by several Vermonters whose posts were censored in recent weeks, apparently because they criticized the Governor for signing gun control legislation earlier this year.

ACLU of Vermont staff attorney Jay Diaz: “The Governor’s censorship of constituents’ political views violates their free speech rights, undermines public trust of government, and offends our democratic values of robust and open debate. A growing number of courts are affirming that First Amendment protections apply to government social media pages and accounts. Governor Scott’s Facebook page is no different.”

The ACLU objects that the Governor’s practice of deleting some posts that are critical of his administration is a form of viewpoint-based censorship that violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article 13 of the Vermont Constitution. Additionally, the ACLU asserts that the Governor’s policy of blocking certain constituents from making any future posts amounts to an unlawful “prior restraint” on speech. 

Last year, VPR reported that Governor Scott had blocked posts by members of Indivisible Vermont, among others, who were also critical of his administration. The Governor eventually unblocked the accounts, explaining that they had been mistaken for spam.

In the past year, the ACLU has sued public officials in several other states—including governors in Maine and Maryland—after they blocked constituents on their official social media 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. That court determined the “@realDonaldTrump” account is a designated public forum because the President, a public official, created and uses it as an “interactive space.”

The ACLU is requesting that Governor Scott respond to the letter in the next two weeks and confirm that constituents have been “unblocked” and that enforcement of the Governor’s current “social media policy” has stopped.

A copy of the ACLU’s letter to Governor Scott is available here.

Along with its letter, the ACLU submitted a request for public records related to the Governor’s policy and practice of censoring social media users. A copy of that request is available here.