It's hard to believe that it took state Sen. Ray Scott this long to appreciate — or even understand — how he was trampling on the First Amendment, especially given the number of editorials we've written condemning his practice of blocking critics on social media accounts in which he self-identifies as an elected government official.
Scott sounds as if he is still not convinced that he was doing anything wrong, telling the Sentinel's Charles Ashby that by settling a lawsuit brought against him the American Civil Liberties Union, there's no "settled law" on the matter. "It's a weird, fishy place to be," Scott said.
This despite statements in U.S. District Court rulings like this:
"If the Supreme Court's First Amendment jurisprudence makes anything clear, it is that speech may not be disfavored by the government simply because it offends," one ruling reads.
Scott doesn't seem to understand that he is the government. By establishing Facebook and Twitter accounts where he shares political opinions and policy positions, he created a public forum where viewpoint discrimination — or blocking people because of their views or comments — violates the First Amendment, according to a growing body of court precedent.
That point should have been clear when Colorado Senate President Leroy Garcia, a Pueblo Democrat, paid a $25,000 fine earlier this year for doing something similar. This isn't about partisan politics. It's about public officials understanding that once they're elected and use social media as a political platform, they're held to a different standard.
But Scott doesn't get it. He's acting as if this is some fuzzy realm where the rules remain unclear. "Everybody's trying to figure out what's the right thing to do, and how we should do it."
The right thing to do would have been to take corrective action immediately, unblock constituents and apologize for violating the Constitution. Instead, Scott waited to get sued, leaving taxpayers on the hook for the ACLU's attorneys fees — again, despite our warning that he was playing with fire in the wake of Garcia's settlement.
Ashby reported that the ACLU's fees are $25,000. We don't know what the government-paid attorneys who represented Scott in his official capacity as a lawmaker cost taxpayers.
The ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of Grand Junction resident Anne Landman. As a result of the lawsuit, Scott has now unblocked Landman and must refrain from censoring anyone else with critical viewpoints from his social media accounts as a senator, or in any future elected position.
Bully for Landman for refusing to succumb to bully tactics. The term-limited Scott has already indicated he's running for a seat on the Mesa County Board of Commissioners before his Senate term expires.
Without some intervention, it's a safe bet that Scott would have continued to insulate himself from criticism by blocking constituents who take a dim view of his rhetoric or legislative actions.
"It is a shame that I had to file a federal lawsuit to enforce my constitutional rights," Landman said in a statement released by the ACLU. "But I am just happy that Senator Scott will no longer be able to silence me or any of his critics."
The bigger shame is that Scott had plenty of opportunities to figure out that what he was doing was wrong and passed on them.