Trump Cannot Block People On Twitter, Judge Rules

Danny Woods
May 24, 2018

The case was originally brought by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and seven Twitter users who had been blocked by Trump.

In a 75-page ruling that rejects Trump's argument that he has a First Amendment right to pick with whom he associates and not to engage with others, a Manhattan federal judge said the section of his personal account with the reply button is a public forum.

Furthermore, the second part of the judge's ruling, that public figures have no right to block users on social media in response to their political views, also has implications that range far beyond Trump.

Buchwald drew a distinction between Twitter's blocking and muting functions.

Buchwald boiled down the case to two simple questions: Can a public official block someone from seeing her or his Twitter feed given First Amendment protections of free speech?

The ruling is significant because it shows that if a public official uses Twitter in an official capacity, that can qualify it as a public forum - where freedom of speech is protected. That means that those users are free to share their views with the Twitter universe at-large, but Trump won't have to see those tweets.

The Department of Justice said in a statement that it "respectfully" disagrees with the ruling and is considering how to proceed. Instead, merely declaring that the president has violated the rules of the Constitution should be more than enough to compel his team to take the appropriate action.

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A uniquely 21st-century constitutional question received a satisfying answer today from a federal judge: President Trump can not block people on Twitter, as it constitutes a violation of their First Amendment rights.

What's more, Buchwald said, the space below Trump's tweets that show the public's replies are a public forum, because it is "generally accessible to the public" and anyone with a Twitter account is able to view those responses, assuming that the user has not been blocked. The New York judge, appointed in 1999, offered a solution that Trump simply "mute" certain accounts. However, she noted that "we must assume that the President and Scavino will remedy the blocking we have held to be unconstitutional". According to their profiles, the Twitter users who sued the president for blocking them - and won - include an outspoken war veteran, activist songwriter, surgeon, comedian, sociologist, cyclist anti-doping advocate and a liberal blogger. A federal judge denied a request for a preliminary court order that would've stopped the governor from blocking anyone.

"It would end up applying to a wide range of government officials throughout the country", he said.

But to block someone both prevents that person from seeing tweets and from responding to them, preventing them from even accessing a public forum. Should Trump ignore the ruling, analysts say, future litigation could force Twitter to unblock Trump's followers unilaterally.

McConnell said he was skeptical of the lawsuit when he first heard about it because Twitter is "really a 21st century way of writing, receiving letters".

If Donald Trump blocks someone, that person loses the opportunity to reply to Trump tweets and have their tweet show up underneath them.

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