CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia is suing a county commissioner in the state’s eastern panhandle for blocking a constituent on social media.
The lawsuit filed Friday in Jefferson County Circuit Court alleges Jefferson County Commissioner Steve Stolipher violated Harpers Ferry resident Christy Stadig’s First Amendment rights when he blocked her from his Facebook page in May 2022.
Stadig said she was blocked after she commented on a post of Stolipher’s with questions about a county financial audit. Stadig later confronted Stolipher publicly at a Jefferson County Republican Executive Committee meeting to ask to be unblocked. She says she was not.
Stolipher operates a Facebook page titled “Steve Stolipher County Commissioner,” according to the suit. The page is described as a “Government Official” page on Facebook.
Stolipher did not return an email from The Associated Press asking for comment Tuesday.
The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering whether public officials can block critics from commenting on their social media accounts, an issue that previously came up in a case involving former President Donald Trump.
Two years ago, the Supreme Court dismissed a case over Trump’s efforts to block critics from his personal Twitter account. A lower court had said Trump violated the First Amendment whenever he blocked a critic to silence a viewpoint. But the Supreme Court said the case should be dismissed because there was nothing left to it after Trump was permanently suspended from Twitter and ended his presidential term. The former president’s account has since been reinstated.
Now, the court has agreed to hear two cases involving much lower-profile figures.
In the past, the ACLU of West Virginia has criticized Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and other government officials for blocking constituents on social media.
ACLU of West Virginia Legal Director Aubrey Sparks said the right to critique public officials “lies at the very heart of the First Amendment.” People being blocked by public Facebook pages is one of the most common complaints received by the ACLU of West Virginia, Sparks said.
“We look forward to putting this matter to rest once and for all,” she said. “If a politician’s skin is too thin to withstand questions from the people they represent, then they maintain the right to simply stay off of social media.”
Public officials have the right to restrict access to their pages under certain circumstances, like if their safety is being threatened.