Politics

Free Speech Clinic Sues Trump For Blocking Twitter Users

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University is suing President Donald Trump for blocking users from his @realDonaldTrump account, arguing the practice infringes on First Amendment rights.

The suit, which also names White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and Dan Scavino, the president’s director of social media, is brought on behalf of seven Twitter users who have been blocked from Trump’s personal account for criticizing or disparaging the president in their replies to his tweets.

The lawsuit will likely turn on whether the president’s Twitter account qualifies as a public forum. In First Amendment law, a public forum is a space open to all constitutionally-protected speech and assembly. Traditionally, this has included places like sidewalks or public squares. Citizens enjoy the strongest First Amendment protections in these settings. The government may only enforce reasonable, content neutral speech restrictions in these spaces.

The Knight Center argues Trump’s personal Twitter account is such a forum. They write:

Defendants have made the account accessible to all, taking advantage of Twitter’s interactive platform to directly engage the President’s 33 million followers. The President’s tweets routinely generate tens of thousands of comments in the vibrant discussion forums associated with each of the President’s tweets. Further, Defendants have promoted the President’s Twitter account as a key channel for official communication. Defendants use the account to make formal announcements, defend the President’s official actions, report on meetings with foreign leaders, and promote the administration’s positions on health care, immigration, foreign affairs, and other matters. The President’s advisors have stated that tweets from @realDonaldTrump are “official statements,” and they have been treated as such by politicians, world leaders, the National Archive and Records Administration, and federal courts.

The plaintiffs say that blocking their access to the @realDonaldTrump account is an unconstitutional viewpoint-based exclusion from a public forum, as they are excluded from seeing and participating in discussions generated by a given tweet. They claim the practice violates their First Amendment rights, as well as the rights of other Twitter users who are deprived of their right to read the dissenting speech.

They seek a court order requiring the president to cease viewpoint-based blocking and to “unblock” each of the named plaintiffs.

The suit was filed in the Southern District of New York.

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