According to the Associated Press, Twitter filed its lawsuit against Paxton Monday night in federal court in Northern California, claiming its decision to ban Trump was an act of legally protected free speech by the private company.
“Paxton made clear that he will use the full weight of his office, including his expansive investigatory powers, to retaliate against Twitter for having made editorial decisions with which he disagrees,” Twitter’s lawyers wrote.
Republicans like Paxton have been accusing tech companies of unfairly muzzling right-wing voices on their platforms for months now, and Trump’s Twitter ban following the deadly U.S. Capitol riot on January 6 sent them into even bigger bouts of indignation.
A few days after Paxton spoke at the pro-Trump rally in D.C. that preceded the riot, he launched an investigation into Twitter, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Google, demanding those companies turn over documents about content moderation citing alleged censorship of conservative views.
“First Amendment rights and transparency must be maintained for a free online community to operate and thrive,” Paxton wrote in a January news release announcing his civil investigation. “However, the seemingly coordinated de-platforming of the President of the United States and several leading voices not only chills free speech, it wholly silences those whose speech and political beliefs do not align with leaders of Big Tech companies.”
If Twitter’s lawsuit leads to a federal ruling that the company’s decision to ban Trump was protected by the First Amendment, that would likely throw cold water on Paxton’s investigation.
Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott joined Republican state Sen. Bryan Hughes to voice his support for a bill Hughes wrote that would allow Texans to sue social media companies for blocking or banning them due to conservative political beliefs. Even given all of the work the Texas Legislature has ahead of it to respond to both the ongoing pandemic and the catastrophic storm-induced blackouts that swept across Texas in February, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick still lists Hughes’ bill as one of his top priorities to get through the state Senate this session.
Paxton’s dust-up with Twitter is just the latest in a yearslong stretch of legal troubles for the Collin County politician: Texas’ top law enforcement officer is still under FBI investigation for allegedly using the power of his office to scratch the back of wealthy donor Nate Paul, and Paxton is still under indictment for supposed securities fraud from all the way back in 2015.
Paxton hadn’t addressed Twitter’s lawsuit as of Tuesday morning; his last tweet on Monday afternoon celebrated International Women’s Day by attacking President Joe Biden:
Happy #InternationalWomensDay! Today I recommit myself to fighting for women & girls in TX while Biden & his radical-left allies continue to wage war against them. Despite Dems’ empty claims to the contrary, today’s progressives are openly hostile to women. Here’s my latest: pic.twitter.com/RK1hAWnpF4— Attorney General Ken Paxton (@KenPaxtonTX) March 8, 2021
He did take to Facebook Tuesday morning, but only to share a few photos of his Monday night appearance at a crowded, indoor, seemingly mask-free meeting of his hometown Collin County Conservative Republicans alongside state party chair Allen West.