Suit filed against AL Sec. of State for Twitter blocking

Merrill has since responded to the lawsuit

Suit filed against AL Sec. of State for Twitter blocking
Alabama's secretary of state is being sued for allegedly blocking some people from seeing his Twitter account. (Source: John Merrill Twitter Account)

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill is being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union for allegedly blocking several people from viewing his Twitter account.

The ACLU brought the suit Wednesday stating Merrill, as an elected government official, is violating the First Amendment Constitutional rights of three Alabama citizens by denying them access to the tweets he puts on his social media account.

The civil rights organization is suing on behalf of Kimberly Fasking, Heather Melvin Boothe, and Herbert Hicks, three registered voters in Alabama.

Fasking is a law student at the University of Alabama. The ACLU says Merrill blocked her after she asked him about crossover voting.

Boothe was blocked after the ACLU says she tweeted " Good point! Ballot has major typo" at Merrill’s account, @JohnHMerrill.

Hicks, the ACLU says, was blocked after asking the secretary of state about a speaking engagement.

Merrill is not the first politician to be taken to court over the blocking of Twitter followers. A federal judge recently ruled President Donald Trump violated the First Amendment rights of those he blocked from his account, @RealDonaldTrump.

“In the digital age that we live in, John Merrill as a government official does not get to pick and choose who receives information on Twitter just like he can’t kick out his constituents for their beliefs at a town hall," said ACLU of Alabama attorney Brock Boone. "This is a violation of the First Amendment. It is worrisome that the individual in charge of free and fair elections chooses to discriminate against individuals on social media. As the Secretary of State, Merrill should be using his platform to inform the public, not censure them.”

“It is not the Secretary of State’s job to communicate only with those who agree with him, but with all of the people of the State of Alabama," Fasking said in a statement provided by the ACLU. "I am disappointed that I no longer have ready access to information from the Secretary of State’s office in a way that allows me to engage meaningfully on topics that I find incredibly important.”

Merrill told WBRC Fox 6 in Birmingham that, “Anybody who wants to contact me can reach me any way they want to reach me. My cell phone is published and I give it out everywhere I go. But I will block people if they use expletives, call names, or don’t treat people with respect and dignity.”

Merrill later responded to a WSFA 12 News request for comment and issued this statement:

"The lawsuit filed today by the ACLU of Alabama is an attempted political hack job. Members of this liberal group are attempting to create an issue concerning lack of access to public officials that simply does not exist. As every member of the media and general public who interacts with this office knows, the most important thing for an elected official to do is to remain accessible to the people of this state. That is why I always make my cell number - 334.328.2787 - available to all Alabamians.

However, when people use a platform for public debate as a way to promote their agenda, regardless of the presentation of any factual information, I believe it is my responsibility to designate attempts to misinform the public as false. And, when users continue to publish those instances, or when they make hurtful statements about me or my family, I try to reduce the exposure to avoid misinforming members of the public.

Further, the account in question - @JohnHMerrill - is exclusively my account, while the account @alasecofstate is the state’s public account, and this account has never blocked anyone from viewing any of the posts on its page. The @JohnHMerrill account has remained a personal account since its creation, in October 2009.

I am recognized as one of the most accessible and personally available elected officials in the history of the state of Alabama, which is why I visit all 67 counties each year. It is my desire to continue to be recognized in that way as long as I have the privilege to continue to serve in public office."

Merrill defended his actions by saying the account is his personal Twitter account, but the ACLU contends that it “is an account that Merrill uses regularly to discuss Alabama election law, inform about his duties as Alabama Secretary of State, remind the public about upcoming elections, and generally engage with the citizens of Alabama. Because of the way he uses this account, it has become an important source of news and information regarding Alabama elections and election law.”

The suit, Fasking v. Merrill, was filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama.

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