St. Louis – A three-judge panel from the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld a district court’s ruling that the City of St. Louis is liable for constitutional violations committed by the former Board of Aldermen President, Lewis Reed, when he blocked a constituent from his official twitter account.
The ACLU of Missouri and the Washington University School of Law’s First Amendment Clinic sued on behalf of a constituent, Sarah Felts, after Reed blocked her on the social media platform Twitter for making critical comments. Reed was replaced by the current Board of Aldermen President, Megan Green, as the defendant following his resignation for unrelated matters in June 2022.
“I am glad the Court spoke clearly: Our elected leaders may not abuse their authority to silence the people they represent just because they disagree,” said Sarah Felts. “Twitter has empowered everyday citizens to engage with our elected officials more than ever before. I am grateful to the lawyers and law students at Wash U’s First Amendment Clinic and the lawyers at the ACLU of Missouri for working diligently to protect my First and 14th Amendment rights.”
“This decision recognizes that the government can be held accountable when a powerful official has used their office to silence critics,” said Lisa Hoppenjans, Director of the First Amendment Clinic at Washington University School of Law.
In their ruling, the court stated:
“Reed’s choice to block Felts on a government account was unilateral, unreviewable, and not subject to other policies. He created municipal policy in his area of the City’s business. Because of the unique power of the President of the Board of Aldermen, Reed exercised final policymaking authority when he blocked Felts. The City of St. Louis is liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.”
“Elected representatives are accountable to their constituents and if they are not able to accept criticism from those they represent, they are in the wrong job,” said Anthony Rothert, Director of Integrated Advocacy for the ACLU of Missouri. “This case was never about money – we asked for and received only nominal damages – but rather it has always been about upholding our constitutional right to be heard by and able to speak critically to those who represent us.”
Read the full opinion.