The Stanton First Amendment Clinic has advocated on a number of pressing speech, press, and assembly issues this academic year: authoring amicus briefs in the First and Ninth Circuits, litigating in state court to enhance access to public information and court filings, and researching emerging issues in the field.
The Clinic’s first project of the fall semester was on behalf of a Tennessee resident who was blocked from accessing and commenting on a state representative’s official Facebook page after posting a critical comment. On this platform, the elected official would offer the support of his office, post polls on legislation, and share news about events and opportunities.
The students drafted the complaint for this new matter, filing their brief in early September in federal district court. This filing was quickly followed by a motion for preliminary injunction – a request to restore the client’s access to the page during the remainder of litigation – which was authored by William Anderson, JD ’23, Jamie Michael, JD ’23, and Daniel Kopolovic, JD ’23. The team also filed a reply to the preliminary injunction and responded to the defendant’s motion to dismiss during the fall semester.
The student team continuing this work in the spring 2023 semester, Rebecca Ehrhardt, JD ’23, Sam Parson, JD ’23, and William Anderson, JD ’23, presented argument before the Middle District of Tennessee regarding the rights of social media users to freely post on government pages on March 24, 2023. The student attorneys working on the case were excited for the opportunity to argue on behalf of their client. The rights of social media users have been a hot topic, exacerbated by the pandemic era forcing more of us to communicate online. The team had the opportunity to craft new arguments in a novel application of First Amendment law in preparation for a court hearing, as much of the precedent on speech rights on social media has only been decided in recent years. The team filed a notice with the court just weeks before their argument, when the Eleventh Circuit decided the same issues in a case against a Georgia state representative.
The students believe that upholding First Amendment rights on government-operated social media pages is of paramount importance for the future of democratic debate in this country. “Facebook users don’t always know what other users are blocked from a page and what comments are deleted,” Parson said. “This would allow government officials to tailor Facebook exchanges on their pages to promote one viewpoint.” The Clinic prevailed against the defendant’s motion to dismiss and is excited to represent their client in the next steps of the litigation process!