ACLU backs J’aime Morgaine in lawsuit against Rep. Paul Gosar
J’aime Morgaine, the woman who sued Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, for blocking her from his Facebook page, remains at the center of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in federal court.
The Arizona chapter of ACLU showed interest in Morgaine’s case after she filed it in September, but waited until more of Gosar’s constituents complained about being blocked.
After Gosar took heat for blocking Morgaine’s remarks, and for defending his right to do so, he gave in and unblocked her from his page.
“Welcome back to my Facebook, @JMorgaine. The floor’s all yours,” Gosar said in a Facebook message to her in October.
Morgaine, formerly a Prescott resident, voluntarily dismissed her lawsuit in February, but the ACLU picked it up, filing a new complaint April 10 in U.S. District Court in Phoenix.
ACLU lawyers are looking at the legality of elected officials blocking constituents on social media, breaking new ground in that area.
One of the things that’s changed since the Facebook flap is the House of Representatives issued an internal memorandum shaping changes in social media policy language for House members, Morgaine said.
“They’re saying this is a ‘moderated’ site, not a public forum,” Morgaine said Tuesday during an interview at the Mohave County Democrats headquarters in Kingman. “The House is trying to create an illusion that it is not a public forum.”
Tom Van Flein, who is Gosar’s general counsel, said: “The case will likely be dismissed again in that there are no blocks in place and there is a revised Facebook policy consistent with house administration rules and the Virginia court ruling on a similar suit. The new suit does not account for this. The Congressman believes this suit is more about harassment then any legitimate legal issue.”
The other important aspect of why Morgaine’s pursuing the lawsuit is that once she receives a judgment in her favor — and she’s confident she will — she can file a complaint with the House ethics commission for violation of her civil rights.
“So the policy can be changed at the federal level. It’s much bigger than Rep. Gosar,” Morgaine said.
Morgaine, who is running for Arizona Legislative District 5 Senate, admits she made a comment using foul language on Gosar’s Facebook page, but contends that the Members’ Congressional Handbook spells out First Amendment rights allowing comments on political officials’ websites.
Gosar said Facebook is his property, and posted a disclaimer:
“We reserve the right to hide or delete user comments that include profanity, name-calling, threats, personal attacks, known factual inaccuracies or other inappropriate comments or material at our discretion.”
Additionally, Gosar said he reserves the right to ban anyone who repeatedly “spams” his page with off-topic links, videos or comments unrelated to the topic under which they are posting.
“Because, quite frankly, we don’t care if a Facebook block offends you,” Gosar posted in response to Morgaine’s complaint.
Media law expert Dan Barr told Arizona Politics that he’s happy to be working with the ACLU on the case. Morgaine, Paul Hamilton and other plaintiffs are seeking to prevent Gosar from blocking them or other individuals under his current social media policy, and to declare the policy as violating constituents’ First and Fifth Amendment rights.
Morgaine said she’s not only disappointed in Gosar’s decision to block hundreds of his constituents, she’s mad about it. That’s one of the reasons she’s entering the political arena, taking on Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, in Legislative District 5.
“I feel there’s no accountability for people that represent me,” Morgaine said. “It’s more than blocking constituents and limiting access. It’s about who gets represented. It appears to me that corporate needs are placed over constituents and that needs to change.”
Marty Luna-Wolfe, chairwoman of the Mohave County Democratic Party, said Morgaine is different than other Democrats who’ve run for Legislative District 5 in the last five years.
Like Mary McCord Robinson, who’s running for state Representative in Legislative District 5, she’s not in it expecting to lose, Luna-Wolfe said.
“I may not have known these two long, but I will tell you they will sit down and listen to their constituents and they will fix a problem within their power or explain why they can’t,” she said.
Morgaine, 55, was born in El Paso, Texas, and raised in Lake Elsinore, California, where she wanted to run for the parks and recreation board at age 11 because nothing was being offered after school. Of course, she was too young to be considered, but a local councilman took up her cause and made her an honorary board member.
She received a $150 grant and started intramural softball for sixth-graders.
“The only thing that’s changed is the issues,” she said of her political ambitions.
As a first-time property owner, Morgaine is concerned about water sustainability in Mohave County and Arizona. She wants to change “antiquated” water laws that allow foreign investors to come into Mohave County and buy agricultural land and water rights to grow products that are shipped out of the country.
“When these aquifers are sucked dry, there will be no life here, no property values. It needs to be addressed,” she said.
Morgaine served in the U.S. Army with the communications signal corps from 1985-88, and wants to promote better health care access for disabled veterans, especially in rural areas. She drives to Prescott, Las Vegas and Loma Linda, California, to find better health care.
And she wants to pass the Equal Rights Amendment in Arizona, one of 14 states that have yet to ratify the act.
“At this point, women don’t have equal protection under the Constitution,” she said. “The Second Amendment did not include women. It was about white, male property owners and nothing has changed that except the Fourteenth Amendment.”
Hubble Ray Smith is a reporter for the Kingman Daily Miner, a sister publication to The Daily Courier.