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Jenner & Block is proud of its 2018 pro bono results:

 

 

January 7, 2019 Firm Wins Victory Before the Fourth Circuit in First Amendment Case about Use of Social Media By Public Officials

The firm secured a victory in a pro bono matter that focused on whether the First Amendment applies to a government official’s Facebook page.  At issue in Davison v. Randall was a trial court’s decision regarding whether Phyllis Randall, chair of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, violated the First Amendment rights of resident Brian Davison when she banned him from the “Chair Phyllis J. Randall” Facebook page she administered.  The trial court ruled that Ms. Randall had unconstitutionally barred Mr. Davison from her Facebook page based on Mr. Davison’s viewpoint, and Ms. Randall appealed.

Partner Jessica Ring Amunson and Associate Tali R. Leinwand represented the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, which argued on behalf of Mr. Davison.

Mr. Davison had used his personal Facebook page to post comments on Ms. Randall’s Facebook page that criticized the Loudoun Board and Ms. Randall for actions taken in their official capacities.  Ms. Randall subsequently deleted Mr. Davison’s posts and banned Mr. Davison’s account from her Facebook page.  In November 2016, Mr. Davison filed a complaint against Ms. Randall and the Loudoun board, alleging that Ms. Randall’s decision to ban Mr. Davison for expressing critical speech amounted to “viewpoint discrimination.”  Following a one-day bench trial, the trial court ruled that Ms. Randall had unconstitutionally barred Mr. Davison from her Facebook page based on Mr. Davison’s viewpoint, and Ms. Randall appealed. 

On January 7, 2019, the Fourth Circuit held that the Chair’s Facebook page “bear[s] the hallmarks of a legal forum.”  “In sum,” wrote Judge James A. Wynn, “the interactive component of the Chair’s Facebook page constituted a public forum, and Randall engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination when she banned Davison’s [private page] from that forum.”

The Fourth Circuit’s decision marks the first time an appellate court has addressed the applicability of the First Amendment to social media accounts run by government officials.  In May 2018, a federal trial court in New York held that President Trump’s blocking of critics on his Twitter page violates the First Amendment.  That case, in which the firm serves as co-counsel with the Knight Institute, is currently pending before the Second Circuit.

CATEGORIES: First Amendment

PEOPLE: Jessica Ring Amunson, Tali R. Leinwand

February 21, 2017 Partner Leah Tulin Represents Congressman in Student Art Dispute

Jenner & Block Partner Leah J. Tulin is working on a pro bono basis in the First Amendment case of a former high school student whose award-winning painting was removed from public display in the US Capitol after it became the subject of a negative media campaign.  Ms. Tulin is representing the artist, David Pulphus, and Rep. William Lacy Clay of Missouri, who each year sponsors a student artist from his district as part of the annual Congressional Art Competition.  For the 2016 competition, Mr. Clay sponsored a painting by Mr. Pulphus called “Untitled #1,” which depicts a scene from Ferguson, MO, with police officers and protestors represented as animals.  After being on public display in the Cannon Tunnel in the US Capitol Complex for nearly seven months, the Architect of the Capitol ordered the painting removed in response to pressure from a number of conservative media outlets and a group of lawmakers.  

In a lawsuit filed in federal district court on February 21, 2017, Ms. Tulin and the team allege that the painting’s removal violated the First Amendment free speech rights of Mr. Pulphus and Mr. Clay.  It is a basic and fundamental principle that the First Amendment prohibits the government from limiting or prohibiting speech just because it disagrees with a speaker’s viewpoint, according to the complaint.  The suit names the Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers as the defendant.

Joining Ms. Tulin on the team are Associates Tassity Johnson and Sati Harutyunyan.

News of the federal lawsuit was reported by media outlets including the St. Louis Post Dispatch, The Hill and The Washington Post.

CATEGORIES: Education, First Amendment

PEOPLE: Tassity Johnson, Sati Harutyunyan

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