Liberal group sues Wisconsin Republicans over Twitter blocks

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Posted: Nov 01, 2017 10:52 AM

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A liberal advocacy group filed a federal lawsuit against three top Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature, alleging they are infringing on the group's free speech rights by blocking it from commenting on their Twitter feeds.

One Wisconsin Now filed the lawsuit Tuesday in federal court in Madison. It names Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and state Reps. John Nygren and Jesse Kremer as defendants. Nygren is co-chair of the Legislature's powerful budget-writing committee and Kremer is one of the most conservative members of the Assembly, sponsoring a bill this year that allows for University of Wisconsin students to be expelled for disrupting campus events.

One Wisconsin Now alleges that the lawmakers are increasingly using their official Twitter accounts to communicate with the public. It says that all three lawmakers have blocked the group, which it believes is an unconstitutional free-speech violation.

"This is a groundbreaking case that we expect will result in ensuring that everyone will have the right to respond to public officials on social media sites, like Twitter, just as they would if they were attending a town hall meeting," the group's attorney, Christa Westerberg, said in a statement.

None of the lawmakers immediately commented Wednesday on the lawsuit. Nygren said he first had to speak with his attorney. A spokesman for the state Department of Justice, which would likely defend the lawmakers, did not immediately reply to a message seeking comment.

"It is unacceptable state representatives like Kremer, Nygren and Vos use forums like Twitter to broadcast their propaganda in their official capacity, on the public's dime and then block the public from challenging or responding to them," said One Wisconsin Now's director, Scot Ross. "Free speech isn't just for the people or organizations whom they like or with whom they agree."

The group's lawsuit claims that government officials can't offer a public forum through Twitter and then block people or groups, including One Wisconsin Now, from participating. It is asking the court to declare the actions are a violation of First Amendment free speech rights and issue an order unblocking One Wisconsin Now and prohibiting the lawmakers from blocking any other users.

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One Wisconsin Now is one of the most outspoken liberal groups in the state, frequently targeting Republican office holders for criticism both through social media, press releases and sometimes lawsuits. A federal judge last year sided with the group in its lawsuit challenging Republican-authored restrictions on early voting and limitations on where it can take place. That ruling is currently under appeal.

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