ACLU claims victory in settlement with Gov. Hogan to protect first amendment rights

Monday, the ACLU of Maryland and Governor Larry Hogan settled out of court for $65,000 in a case that attorneys have said is another step in protecting first amendment rights.

In a federal lawsuit filed in August 2017, four Maryland residents alleged that Governor Hogan censored them by deleting their comments and blocking them from his

Facebook page for having opposing view points and for implementing an unconstitutional social media policy.

"it seemed plainly obvious that the governor was systematically either blocking or deleting the comments of individuals whose opinions he didn't agree with.", said Lisa Zycherman of the Davis, Wright & Tramaine law firm.
She served as lead pro bono counsel in the case.

Zycherman said that the first amendment forbids a government official from discriminating based on viewpoint.

A screen shot of a Facebook message from Plaintiff, Molly Handley which is a part of the original complaint wrote that she had proof of nasty, abusive comments that were up for weeks, on Gov. Hogan’s page, in comparison to her comments which she says were taken down for merely asking a question, saying she was “silenced and shut out of the conversation.”

"When any governor or state official creates a forum, even if it's online for constituents to interact with them, hear their messages and have a channel of communication, they have to abide by the first amendment. It doesn't matter if that forum is in a public square, if it's in a meeting room... those rules are the same.", said Zycherman.

The terms of the settlement say that Governor Hogan will have to establish a separate 'constituent message page" and mandates that the his page will not discriminate based on viewpoint."

Zycherman said, "Before the policy permitted the governor and his staff to delete comments for any reason that they saw fit."

However, the Governor's Office has said that those policies were already in place.

And, if someone wants to contest their removal from the Facebook page, they must submit a letter to the Office of Correspondence & Constituent Services, providing grounds for reinstatement.

Governor Hogan's office is not acknowledging this as a win for the ACLU, but says its pleased that the ACLU has decided to drop what they call a " frivolous and politically motivated lawsuit".

According to the settlement, $50,000thousand dollars will towards legal fees.
Zycherman said that over 400 Marylander had come forward to report that they’d been censored as well.