Capitol Alert

This lawmaker blocked anti-vaccine activists on Twitter. Now he’s facing a lawsuit

Richard Pan explains reason for vaccine bill

The Democratic state senator from Sacramento on June 26, 2015 recounted why he introduced Senate Bill 277, a hugely controversial bill requiring vaccinations for California school children.
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The Democratic state senator from Sacramento on June 26, 2015 recounted why he introduced Senate Bill 277, a hugely controversial bill requiring vaccinations for California school children.

State Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, is being sued by anti-vaccine activists, who say he blocked them on Twitter in violation of their First Amendment rights.

The lawsuit argues Pan’s Twitter account is a modern public forum because he is a government official.

The suit, which was filed in federal court in Sacramento on July 27, alleges Pan blocks people with dissenting perspectives “based solely on his unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.” In May, President Donald Trump lost a similar lawsuit over his blocking of users on his @realDonaldTrump account.

Suzanne Rummel and Marlene Burkitt, who declined to comment, are the two anti-vaccine activists who filed suit. Marian Tone, their lawyer, released a statement on their behalf outlining the case they plan to make against Pan.

“These social media venues are modern day public forums, and our rights to express ourselves and to petition our government must be protected,” Tone said. “When one speaker is silenced with an invisible gag order, we all lose a little bit of our liberties. These tactics, whether by President Trump or Senator Pan, cannot be tolerated in our modern society.”

Rummel and Burkitt strongly opposed Senate Bill 277 — a law Pan co-sponsored in 2015 that eliminated the personal belief exemption from mandatory childhood vaccination. Pan received heavy backlash on Twitter at the time.

Pan Lawsuit by Dan Smith on Scribd

Rummel and Burkitt have a history of posting provocative tweets about Pan, including references to him as a “Mercury joker” and depictions of him as a Nazi. Shortly after Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill, Burkitt tweeted that “vaccines just might cause leukemia” — a claim strongly refuted by the scientific community.

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Pan spokeswoman Shannan Martinez said the senator has yet to be served and was first informed of the suit by The Sacramento Bee.

Since this story’s publication, Rummel has deleted some provocative tweets, including depictions of Pan as a Nazi. The Bee has replaced one of her deleted tweets with a screenshot.

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