PHOENIX – A congressional attorney is asking a federal judge here to toss out a lawsuit demanding that Rep. Paul Gosar be barred from blocking them – or anyone – from his Facebook page.
Thomas Hungar, the general counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives, contends that the two people who filed suit have no legal standing.
Hungar did not dispute that the Arizona Republican congressman previously blocked them from commenting on his Facebook page. But the attorney said Gosar now follows a new policy about his page that is “more protective of First Amendment rights.’’
More to the point, Hungar said neither J’aime Morgaine of Kingman nor Paul Hamilton of Prescott is currently blocked, though both were before. Nor, he said, is anyone else at this point.
And that, he told U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell, means they are not suffering any harm that gives him the right to tell Gosar what he has to do with his Facebook page.
What Campbell rules could set precedent for the ability of other members of Congress of both parties to impose controls on their social media sites.
The legal fight – the second – is over a Facebook page that Gosar acknowledges he has as part of his official elected position and as a method of communicating with constituents.
Morgaine filed suit last year after she was blocked by Gosar, a move that Hungar said was taken because of “her use of profanity.’’ That led to her – and others – being unblocked and the lawsuit was dropped.
But attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, in filing the latest lawsuit earlier this year, say that Gosar still has far too much leeway in deciding who gets to comment and who does not. So they want Campbell to block the congressman and his aides from restricting future posts.
If nothing else, the ACLU attorneys say the fear of people that something they say may end up getting them blocked “creates a hostile atmosphere for free expression’’ on the Facebook page and chills and deters them from speaking their minds.
In the new legal filings, Hungar tells the judge none of that is sufficient to maintain a lawsuit.
He said the prior decision to block postings was based on an old policy.
The new policy, Hungar said, spells out that the Facebook page is a “moderated online discussion site’’ and not a public forum.
It also spells out in detail what kinds of comments will be removed. These range from graphic violence and vulgar language, to intimidation, spam, campaign communications or misrepresenting the poster’s identity. And it says repeat violations will result in people being blocked.
Hungar said that, at best, the plaintiffs in this case are saying they may be blocked at some point in the future. He said there is no impending injury that either can claim.
“The fact that plaintiffs previously were blocked does not constitute a cognizable injury,’’ he wrote.