Court Rules That Trump Can't Block People on Twitter

May 24, 2018, 19:14
Court Rules That Trump Can't Block People on Twitter

A federal judge in NY ruled Wednesday that President Trump is in violation of the Constitution when he blocks users on Twitter. The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, which brought the case on behalf of the blocked Verified Liberals, argued that the President had violated the rights of the blocked users by limiting their participation in a public forum.

O'Reilly told The Outline that she wasn't particularly surprised by the court's decision today, since District Judge Buchwald had already pointed out that Trump can simply mute people on Twitter rather than blocking them.

"In so holding, we reject the defendants' contentions that the First Amendment does not apply in this case and that the President's personal First Amendment interests supersede those of plaintiffs". Representing a group of seven Twitter users, they sued Trump, along with Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Hope Hicks (both of whom were dismissed as defendants), and White House Social Media Director Daniel Scavino (who was not), claiming that "The White House is transforming a public forum into an echo chamber".

"The audience for a reply extends more broadly than the sender of the tweet being replied to, and blocking restricts the ability of a blocked user to speak to that audience", the judge wrote.

Eugene Gu, School of Medicine '15 and a prominent figure on Twitter whom Trump blocked, won a federal lawsuit Wednesday along with six co-plaintiffs that ruled Trump can not block users based on their expressed views.

It's unclear if Mr Trump will now unblock his critics, but the judge hinted the president could face legal action if he did not comply with the ruling.

US President Donald Trump has made directing scorn on Twitter a defining feature of his presidency.

"A declaratory judgment should be sufficient, as no government official - including the President - is above the law, and all government officials are presumed to follow the law as has been declared", wrote Justice Reice Buchwald in her decision.

Kerri Kupec, a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice, said in an email: "We respectfully disagree with the court's decision and are considering our next steps".

When a Twitter user is blocked by another, he or she can not see the blocked user's tweets or replies, or interact with that user.

Donald Trump's use of Twitter has always been controversial, and he has developed something of a penchant for blocking people who dare to question or criticize him.

"The judge pointed to a number of ways in which the Twitter account has been used for governmental purposes, and that's really the question", said Michael McConnell, who teaches First Amendment law at Stanford Law School.

"We hold that portions of the @realDonaldTrump account - the "interactive space" where Twitter users may directly engage with the content of the president's tweets - are properly analyzed under the "public forum" doctrines set forth by the Supreme Court", Buchwald ruled. The president has more than 52 million followers on Twitter.

If Twitter is a public forum where users have First Amendment rights, that could make Twitter bans unconstitutional as well.

Judge Buchwald said in a written ruling: "This case requires us to consider whether a public official may..." (I'm more of a "mute" fan myself, but to each their own.) But seeing as Trump is technically the president, does blocking qualify as silencing dissent?