Constituents of PA-6 v. Costello

Constituents of Congressman Ryan Costello blocked on Facebook or barred from attending town halls because of their criticism of the congressman

Attorneys/Firms: Witold Walczak, Molly Tack-Hooper, and Michelin Cahill, ACLU of Pennsylvania; Seth Kreimer, University of Pennsylvania Law School

On March 12, 2018, the ACLU of Pennsylvania wrote to U.S. Representative Ryan Costello on behalf of nine of his constituents whom he has blocked on his congressional Facebook page or barred from attending his town hall meetings in retaliation for criticizing the congressman. Many of the constituents named in the letter had regularly expressed their opinions to the congressman or protested outside his Pennsylvania offices before being blacklisted by the congressman.

The letter explained that the First Amendment prohibits public officials from cutting off their constituents’ access to forums for speech based on the constituents’ viewpoints. It demanded that the congressman unblock everyone and restore everyone’s access to his public events by March 19, 2018, or risk litigation.

On March 19, 2018, Congressman Costello agreed to unblock the constituents named in the letter and others from his official Facebook page. In follow-up conversations, the congressman’s staff confirmed that they had blacklisted two of the constituents named in the letter from attending a January 2018 town hall meeting. The ACLU responded by warning Costello that prohibiting their attendance at future events based on their views would lead to a lawsuit.

The ACLU is continuing to monitor public officials’ compliance with the First Amendment. If you believe your representatives have blocked you on their official social media or excluded you from public events because of your viewpoint, please let us know by filling out a complaint form at aclupa.org/intake.

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