MADISON – Two years after a federal judge found Assembly Speaker Robin Vos had unconstitutionally blocked a liberal group from following him on Twitter, the Rochester Republican is again restricting who can interact with him on the social media platform.
The last time Vos and his colleagues tried to control who could respond to his tweets, it cost taxpayers $200,000 in legal bills.
Vos on Sunday blasted out two tweets critical of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. He put limits on the tweets so only the 768 accounts he follows could reply to them. That left out his toughest critics.
Vos spokeswoman Kit Beyer didn’t answer questions Monday about the restrictions Vos put on his tweets.
Two years ago, U.S. District Judge William Conley concluded Vos and two other Republican lawmakers had violated the First Amendment rights of the liberal group One Wisconsin Now by blocking it on Twitter.
Conley, who was nominated as a judge by President Barack Obama, wrote that Vos and the other lawmakers had created public forums with their Twitter accounts and could not restrict who responded to them based on their political points of view.
“Having opted to create a Twitter account … and benefit from its broad, public reach, defendants cannot now divorce themselves from its First Amendment implications and responsibilities as state actors,” Conley wrote.
But with his tweets on Sunday, Vos again put limits on who could offer their responses beneath his musings.
“I do think that limiting replies is problematic,” One Wisconsin Now attorney Christa Westerberg said by email. “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. 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.”
One Wisconsin brought its lawsuits against Vos and then-Reps. John Nygren of Marinette and Jesse Kremer of Kewaskum. The three did not contest the judge’s ruling and the state agreed to pay $200,000 in taxpayer money to cover One Wisconsin Now’s legal fees.
After the payment was made, Vos and Nygren signaled they saw no need to put any of their own money toward the legal bill. Nygren, who recently stepped down from the Assembly and took a job lobbying for health insurers, in 2019 said blocking One Wisconsin Now “was completely within my job description.”
Contact Patrick Marley at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.