ST. LOUIS – Former St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed violated a constituent’s rights when he blocked her on Twitter over critical remarks, a federal judge ruled Monday.
Political activist and St. Louisan Sarah Felts said Reed blocked her on Jan. 26, 2019, after she tagged the former aldermanic president in a tweet, asking him to clarify a statement he made about closing the city’s Medium Security Institution, also known as the St. Louis Workhouse.
“What do you mean by ‘change the messaging around #CloseTheWorkhouse,’ @PresReed? #STLBOA #aldergeddon2019 #WokeVoterSTL.”Tweet from Sarah Felts on Jan. 26, 2019
Later that evening, Felts went to look at Reed’s Twitter account (@PresReed) and found that she’d been blocked from viewing his tweets.
The ACLU of Missouri and Washington University School of Law’s First Amendment Clinic, who represented Felts in court, claimed Reed was violating Felts’ free speech rights. The complaint was filed in June 2020.
Reed claimed the account was for his personal use and that he interpreted the #aldergeddon hashtag as a threat against himself and other aldermen. However, Judge John Ross found “No evidence was presented that the #aldergedden hashtag was ever associated with violence or threats of violence.”
The court determined Reed “maintained the Account as an elected official, used government
resources – including City employees and web resources – to operate the Account, and
administered the Account as a tool of governance to further his duties as Aldermanic President. As a result, Reed acted under color of state law and his actions are ‘fairly attributable’ to the City.” And since the account was determined to be a “tool of governance,” Reed could no longer block people for dissenting opinions or remarks he didn’t like.
The U.S. District Court’s ruling follows a federal Court of Appeals’ opinion upholding a judgment against former President Donald Trump from blocking critics on his old Twitter account.
As a result, Felts will receive declaratory relief and nominal damages, though no specifics were mentioned. Judge Ross will make a ruling on lawyers’ fees—specifically, who pays them—at a later date.
Reed is currently serving a 45-month federal sentence for his role in a bribery scheme that led to resignation earlier this year.