'Chilling effect' if court enjoins Boebert in Twitter-block suit, Office of General Counsel says

United States Rep. Lauren Boebert

The court should deny the injunction sought by a woman who alleges U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert violated her rights by blocking her on Twitter, counsel for the U.S. House argued in a Tuesday brief.

Plaintiff Brianna Buentello “has confused” Boebert’s personal and official capacities and is “muddying” the issue at hand by suing Boebert only in her official capacity for actions purportedly taken on her personal Twitter account, Douglas N. Letter of the Office of General Counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives said in the brief.

Buentello, a former state representative from Pueblo, filed legal action Jan. 17, alleging she was blocked for posting tweets critical of the congresswoman. Because Boebert is a public official, she cannot block constituents from her official Twitter account, as courts have treated similar conduct by elected officials as government interference with free speech.

Buentello sued and also sought an injunction that would force Boebert to unblock her and not block her going forward.

On March 2, Buentello voluntarily dismissed the personal capacity claims in her action. The dismissal was granted without prejudice March 8. Without prejudice means Buentello could file the personal capacity claims again.

The dismissal leaves the request to enjoin Boebert in her official capacity for allegations arising solely from Boebert’s personal Twitter account, @laurenboebert, Letter said.

Boebert’s personal and official Twitter accounts are entirely separate he said, rejecting Buentello’s argument that the @laurenboebert account is the official account.

“To be clear, like many members of Congress, Ms. Boebert has two entirely distinct Twitter accounts, but the motion and complain only challenge actions taken of Ms. Boebert’s personal account,” the attorney wrote.

The personal account was created the day Boebert declared her candidacy for Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, which includes Montrose County. Boebert used the personal account to share her political views and for campaigning, including fundraising. None of her House staff members have ever operated this account and they lack the credentials to do so, Letter said.

By contrast, Boebert’s official congressional Twitter account was created Dec. 20, with help from the Committee on House Administration; this account is operated through House resources, including her staff members.

“This official Twitter account, in contrast to Ms. Boebert’s personal account, was created to communicate the congresswoman’s views to her constituents as part of her official and representational duties as a member of Congress,” the motion to deny Buentello’s requested injunction states.

“ … Significantly, Ms. Buentello is not currently blocked from accessing the official Twitter account, nor has she ever been. Indeed, no Twitter users have ever been blocked from Congresswoman Boebert’s official Twitter account.”

Letter also said Buentello acknowledged this in a tweet of her own, stating Boebert “can’t shut down your account or block you from her RepBoebert account.”

Buentello’s injunction request makes a fatal mistake in ignoring the distinction between the personal and official accounts, Letter argued throughout his brief.

The plaintiff does not have a right to unhindered access to Boebert’s personal account, he said, and the requested injunction should also be denied as a matter of public interest because granting it “could have far-reaching chilling effects on all members of Congress, whose official social media use is already governed by numerous laws and rules.”

The regulations include requirements to keep official social media pages separate from personal and campaign pages and anything posted on an official account has to comply with federal law concerning official communications.

But representatives are free to have personal social media accounts that are not subject to the same rules, Letter’s brief also says: Buentello’s request blurs the line between private and official conduct and she did not establish the factors necessary to win an injunction.

These factors include a substantial likelihood of success on merits — which Buentello’s legal filings argue is indeed likely, though Letter disputes that argument.

The factors also include establishing irreparable injury if the injunctive relief is denied; that injury to a person seeking the relief outweighs injury to the other party and that it would not be adverse to public interest.

Buentello’s surviving claims do not clear that bar, Letter’s filing contends. The congresswoman did not exercise her power under federal law by blocking the plaintiff from her personal account, he reiterated, disputing the claim that Boebert’s action is “clothed with the authority” of federal law. Boebert, Letter said, would be able to block Buentello from her personal account even after leaving office.

Because Buentello is pursuing Boebert in her official capacity over a personal Twitter account, she cannot succeed on merits, he said.

And, because Buentello has no right to limitless access to Boebert’s personal account, she will not suffer irreparable harm, plus she is not precluded from exercising her constitutional right to petition her government, Letter argued.

The sought-after injunction would be tantamount to a congressional office mandating how individual officeholders conduct personal affairs, an expansive approach that if adopted would abridge Boebert’s free speech rights, the opposition brief continued.

If granted, the Buentello motion “could have extremely broad effects,” since nearly all U.S. House members have official and, likely, private social media accounts, Letter said.

“This injunction, if granted, could seriously chill the speech of many members of Congress, inhibiting communication between members and constituents via very popular and low-cost social media platforms. This type of communication helps citizens make informed judgments about congressional actions and allows members to more effectively understand and efficiently respond to their constituents’ interests,” the brief says.

Letter argued that Buentello could express her complaints about how Boebert manages her social media at the polls or on the congresswoman’s official Twitter page.

“In recent years, lawsuits against public officials for blocking social media users on non-governmental accounts have become increasingly common. This court should decline Ms. Buentello’s invitation to open these floodgates even wider,” Letter concluded.

A response to the brief had not been filed as of Thursday.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.

Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.

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