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    U.S. Supreme Court issues guidance for when government officials can block users on social media

    By Mercedes Yanora,


    Welcome to the Thursday, April 11, Brew.

    Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

    1. U.S. Supreme Court issues guidance for when government officials can block users on social media
    2. Governor Katie Hobbs vetoes two SNAP work requirement bills
    3. Learn how enrollment zones determine which kids go to what public schools in the latest episode of On the Ballot, our weekly podcast

    U.S. Supreme Court issues guidance for when government officials can block users on social media

    In today’s Brew, we’ll explore the following question: When officeholders use their social media accounts to post about their official government duties, are they acting as private citizens or government officials?

    On March 15, the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) issued an opinion in two cases related to that question. We wrote about both, O’Connor-Ratcliff v. Garnier and Lindke v. Freed, last year.

    What the cases were about: O’Connor-Ratcliff v. Garnier concerned two elected school board members, while Lindke v. Freed was about an appointed city manager. In both cases, officeholders blocked users who left repetitive and critical comments on social media accounts identifying them as government officials. The officeholders created the accounts before they assumed office.

    SCOTUS heard arguments in both cases on Oct. 31, 2023, because lower courts came to different conclusions about whether the officeholders acted as government or private actors when they blocked users. According to Congressional Research Service Legislative Attorney Valerie Brannon, “Government retaliation against constituents because of the content or viewpoint of their speech can violate the First Amendment. However, the First Amendment only applies to government action; private action usually does not trigger First Amendment protections. This limitation is known as the ‘state action’ doctrine.”

    For background on the appellate court rulings, click here.

    How SCOTUS ruled: The Court issued one ruling for both cases. Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote for a unanimous court in Lindke v. Freed, and sent it and O’Connor-Ratcliff v. Garnier back to lower courts for judges to revisit in light of SCOTUS’ new guidance.

    The Court issued a two-part test for evaluating the public or private status of a public official’s social media account. Barrett wrote: “When a government official posts about job-related topics on social media, it can be difficult to tell whether the speech is official or private. We hold that such speech is attributable to the State only if the official (1) possessed actual authority to speak on the State’s behalf, and (2) purported to exercise that authority when he spoke on social media.” In circumstances that satisfy both conditions, a government official could be sued for blocking or deleting comments on a social media account.

    Barrett also wrote on the importance of context as well as internet blocking in relation to triggering the state-action doctrine. Click here to learn more.

    Reactions to the ruling: According to ACLU staff attorney Evelyn Danforth-Scott, the ruling “gives everyday Americans a way to hold officials constitutionally accountable when they censor social media content, restrict access to it, or improperly elevate certain viewpoints over others. At the same time, it protects public officeholders’ own free speech rights by giving them guidance on how to make clear when they are speaking as private individuals.”

    We’ve provided an ACLU-submitted amicus brief here as well as one submitted by The Knight First Amendment Institute here.

    The ACLU brief urges the Court to rule individuals act as public officials on social media when their accounts appear to be an extension of their office. The Knight brief asks the Court to apply a stricter standard than the one it ultimately settled on: “When an official chooses to mix governmental and non-governmental conduct on an individual account, they must accept the First Amendment obligations that go with doing so.”

    Other SCOTUS cases involving the First Amendment and social media: O’Connor-Ratcliff v. Garnier and Lindke v. Freed are two of several cases regarding social media and the First Amendment that SCOTUS has considered this term. Others include NetChoice, LLC v. Paxton, concerning a Texas law allowing the state to regulate social media companies, and Murthy v. Missouri, about whether the federal government engaged in censorship when it asked social media companies to remove content.

    Governor Katie Hobbs vetoes two SNAP work requirement bills

    Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs (D) vetoed two bills on April 2 that would have implemented work requirements for individuals enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. Both bills passed along party lines in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

    SNAP work requirements are mandated work-related activities that SNAP recipients must complete in order to qualify for benefits. Some requirements include working at least 30 hours a week, participating in SNAP Employment and Training (E&T) programs, and taking a suitable job if it is offered.

    HB 2502 would have required SNAP-beneficiaries who are able-bodied and less than 60 years-old to enroll in the state’s E&T program unless they have a child under the age of six, are already enrolled in an education or training program, or are participating in a drug or alcohol treatment program. The SNAP Career Advancement Network, the state’s E&T program, is currently voluntary.

    HB 2503 would have limited the state Department of Economic Security from “seeking, applying, accepting, or renewing any waiver of work requirement for able-bodied adults without dependents unless it is required by federal law or authorized by state law.” Under current federal law, states may request temporary waivers from certain SNAP work requirements in areas where the unemployment rate exceeds 10% or where insufficient jobs are available.

    In her veto letters, Hobbs said she had “significant concerns about how this legislation will affect the well-being of Arizonans participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program” and that “this legislation would inhibit our state’s ability to respond in these times to support Arizona families, retailers, and farmers, and would instead place additional strain on food bands.”

    Ballotpedia covers work requirements across a number of public assistance programs, including SNAP, Medicaid, public housing, and child care subsidies. To learn more about each, click here. Interested in the arguments for and against work requirements? Read here.

    Learn how enrollment zones determine which kids go to what public schools in the latest episode of On the Ballot, our weekly podcast

    Most public school students in the U.S. attend a school based primarily on their home address. That often means some families will seek homes in neighborhoods zoned for a particular, high-performing school. In today’s episode of On the Ballot, Ballotpedia’s weekly podcast, we take a district-level look at the nature of those boundaries that sort students based on residence.

    Ballotpedia’s Director of Research Josh Altic and Ballotpedia’s Local Elections Manager Doug Kronaizl discuss what these boundaries mean for school quality and educational equity. Altic and his team researched 45 school districts across 17 states and investigated local open enrollment policies to see if and how students could change schools. For example, does the district require parents to provide their own transportation, or pay tuition, if their child attends a school outside of their attendance zone?

    He also looked at how attendance zones are drawn and adjusted. The research examines, for example, whether districts prioritized community and neighborhood divisions, transportation systems, or equity and diversity when drawing attendance zone boundaries.

    Remember that new episodes of On the Ballot drop every Thursday afternoon. If you’re reading this on the morning of April 11, there’s still time to subscribe to On the Ballot on your preferred podcast app and catch this episode on enrollment zones!

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