Michigan Republicans don't like the liberal blog Blogging for Michigan and so Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop's chief of staff had the website blocked from Senate computers, the Detroit Free Press reports.
The move was greeted with howls of "censorship."
"It's a case of censorship, plain and simple. It's a very dangerous road to go down," Senate Minority Leader Mark Schauer, D-Battle Creek, said Monday. Schauer noted that Bishop hasn't banned conservative blogs from the Senate.
Tuesday, Schauer added to the pressure by sending a formal letter to the Majority Leader:
Dear Senator Bishop: I am writing to call your attention to how the recent content-based blog censorship by your staff has a chilling effect on constituents, the online community, and all of us as elected officials. I would hope that you agree that freedom of speech and the right to express contrary viewpoints are fundamental values that we should all embrace and defend. This is why your staff's decision to block access to a particular independent, Michigan policy-focused blog because of its critical statements is so disturbing. I hope this is simply a matter of your staff lacking an understanding of the role of new media, and not something more sinister.
By the close of business Tuesday, Bishop backed down, the blog reported:
Welcome back, Michigan Senate! A victory for free speech! Now we can get back to normal around here. We still have no budget. We still have an obstructionist Senate Majority Leader. The Senate isn't even in session, is it??? Come on, Senator Bishop! You want state employees to be more productive? Start with yourself.
It's not the first case of Republicans trying to ban liberal blogs. Last year, Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher banned the blog BluegrassReport.org after it repeatedly criticized his administration. A federal case against the governor brought by Public Citizen is still pending.
The action is pretty clearly unconstitutional.
"The worst thing government can do as far as First Amendment violations go is to pick out a particular speaker it doesn't like for special treatment," said Greg Beck, a Public Citizen attorney.
The Michigan Senate hasn't blocked MichiganLiberal.com, a more established blog. Tellingly, Bishop chief of staff Matt Miner explained: "Michiganliberal.com doesn't matter. They don't say bad things about us."