‘Viewpoint discrimination’ case could go to Supreme Court

SANTA FE, NM (AP) — A lawsuit alleging New Mexico County Commissioner and Cowboys co-founder for Trump Couy Griffin engaged in “viewpoint” discrimination could be headed to the Supreme Court of the United States in a test case for free speech rights on social media platforms.

Chaplain and local Democratic Party leader Jeff Swanson lost a federal appeals court ruling in February in a lawsuit saying he was blocked by Griffin from social media discussions about county public affairs on Griffin’s Facebook page.

Swanson, a Navy veteran, says he was discriminately blocked after criticizing Griffin over upkeep of a courthouse and urging Griffin not to mix politics and religion. Swanson’s attorney upheld the motion on Monday at the Supreme Court, which did not say whether it would accept the case.

The 10th United States Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver in February sided with Griffin in the dispute over his social media account and whether it operated as a public forum regarding county affairs, with implied guarantees of public access and freedom of expression.

The appeals court in the dispute found no clearly established right to First Amendment free speech protections for public discussion on social media platforms.

Advocacy groups, including the ACLU, say First Amendment rights should apply to social media accounts when a public official uses accounts as extensions of their office.

Griffin said he used his Facebook page to express his personal views as a member of a three-member county commission.

The dispute erupted in 2019 — long before Griffin, an elected commissioner from Otero County in southern New Mexico — was indefinitely suspended from social media accounts, including Facebook, following his arrest in part of the January 6, 2021 uprising at the US Capitol.

Griffin was found guilty of unlawfully entering restricted grounds of the United States Capitol, where he appeared on an outdoor patio and attempted to lead the crowd in prayer without entering the building.

He was acquitted of engaging in disorderly conduct during the riot that prevented Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election.

Griffin is not running for election in November.

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