Alabama elections chief sued for blocking people on Twitter

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) A lawsuit has been filed against Alabama's secretary of state for blocking people on Twitter.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday by three people who said Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill had blocked them from his Twitter account "because of opinions they expressed or questions they asked."

American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama Director Randall Marshall said Merrill largely posts about the activities of his public office and blocking people deprives them of that information. The lawsuit argues it is a First Amendment violation to put a "viewpoint-based restriction" on access.

Merrill, a prolific Twitter user, said he has blocked people he considers harassing or rude. But he said they can still "reach me whenever they want to." Merrill said he makes his cell phone number available to the public.

Merrill's statement reads:

"The lawsuit filed today by the ACLU of Alabama is an attempted political hack job. Members of this liberal group are attempting to create an issue concerning lack of access to public officials that simply does not exist. As every member of the media and general public who interacts with this office knows, the most important thing for an elected official to do is to remain accessible to the people of this state. That is why I always make my cell number - 334.328.2787 - available to all Alabamians.

However, when people use a platform for public debate as a way to promote their agenda, regardless of the presentation of any factual information, I believe it is my responsibility to designate attempts to misinform the public as false. And, when users continue to publish those instances, or when they make hurtful statements about me or my family, I try to reduce the exposure to avoid misinforming members of the public.

Further, the account in question - @JohnHMerrill - is exclusively my account, while the account @alasecofstate is the state’s public account, and this account has never blocked anyone from viewing any of the posts on its page. The @JohnHMerrill account has remained a personal account since its creation, in October 2009.

I am recognized as one of the most accessible and personally available elected officials in the history of the state of Alabama, which is why I visit all 67 counties each year. It is my desire to continue to be recognized in that way as long as I have the privilege to continue to serve in public office."