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The case involved Hampton (Va.) Sheriff B.J. Roberts who, following his re-election in a hotly contested struggle with challenger Jim Adams, fired Daniel Ray Carter among other deputies who had "Liked" Adams' Facebook page in 2009 (See "TUOL" post 5/1/12). The ousted lawmen sued on the grounds that their First Amendment rights had been trampled, but United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia Judge Raymond Jackson found against them, ruling: "[L]iking a Facebook page...is not the kind of substantive statement that has previously warranted constitutional protection."
But, according to accounts in The Wall St. Journal, The Volokh Conspiracy blog and elsewhere, the Fourth Circuit begged to differ in its 81-page decision, finding that the deputies' icon-clicking was both pure speech and symbolic speech worthy of First Amendment protection. Liking a candidate's Facebook page, the appellate panel said, "is the Internet equivalent of displaying a political sign in one's front yard, which the Supreme Court has held is substantive speech." Moreover, clicking the thumb icon is symbolic speech in that the actor, through his conduct, is intending to convey a message, and that intended message--Jim Adams would be a good sheriff-- is reasonably understood by the audience.