Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) limited who could respond to two of his tweets last weekend, despite a 2019 court ruling against him and former Rep. John Nygren of Marinette that said blocking liberal groups from their Twitter feed was a violation of the First Amendment.
Wisconsin taxpayers footed the bill in that case to the tune of $200,000. Neither Nygren nor Vos contributed their own private funds.
In 2017, One Wisconsin Now (OWN) filed a lawsuit against Vos, Nygren and former Rep. Jesse Kremer (R-Kewaskum) because the three had blocked OWN from their Twitter feeds. Kremer was dropped from the case after he shut down his official Twitter account.
US District Court Judge William Conley ruled in January, 2019 that the lawmakers had created a public forum on Twitter and they were violating OWN’s First Amendment rights by blocking it. Attorney Christa Westerberg with the Pines Bach law firm, said Vos’s action on Sunday was “problematic.”
“The district court… like other courts to have examined the issue said the reply function on a public official’s Twitter account is a public forum under the First Amendment because it is an interactive space where people can exchange ideas,” Westerberg wrote in an emailed statement. “Limiting replies, particularly to a class of people who are most likely to agree with you (those Vos has chosen to follow), restricts access to the public forum.”
In this latest instance, Vos blocked the ability to respond to individual tweets rather than blocking his entire feed.
Vos’s tweets, which were critical of Gov. Tony Evers, could only be responded to by people Vos followed.
In the 2019 ruling, lawmakers were required to pay OWN’s legal fees, which added up to $200,000.
The year before the ruling, Sen. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) paid $30,000 to settle a lawsuit after he removed a sign critical of the GOP from a public area of the State Capitol. Kooyenga planned to have taxpayers cover that cost as well but, after political pressure, agreed to repay the state, though he waited three months to do it.
Neither Vos nor Nygren reimbursed taxpayers for the $200,000 paid on their behalf. Nygren, who now works as a health insurance lobbyist, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2019 that blocking OWN was, “completely within my job description.”
UpNorthNews reached out to Vos’s office but did not receive an immediate response.
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