Brace your doors: The social media pitchforks and torches are coming for President Trump once again. This time, we’re talking more than just angry memes and whiny #DumpTrump hashtags.
Columbia University’s Knight Institute — a left-wing activist group that advocates for speech it deems “open and inclusive” — sued President Trump to unblock more than 40 left-leaning Twitter users who are deeply critical of his presidency and not afraid to say so. In the Institute’s words: “As the district court has held, the First Amendment prohibits the president from blocking Twitter users simply because they’ve criticized him.”
Now being appealed, the ruling came down in late May, when the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York — and a Clinton-appointed liberal judge — held it is unconstitutional for President Trump to block his opponents on Twitter. The president had blocked seven borderline-militant critics of his presidency. As the basis for its decision, the court designated the president’s Twitter account a governmental public forum that must bear the full brunt of the Left’s vitriolic online behavior.
The court is wrong on multiple accounts, and the Coolidge Reagan Foundation recently filed an amicus brief in the appeals court laying them all out.
First and foremost, the Knight Institute, which organized the initial lawsuit against President Trump, lacks standing because the appellants in the case (President Trump and White House Social Media Director Dan Scavino) aren’t preventing the Institute from receiving tweets from anyone. The seven blocked Twitter users could still see President Trump’s tweets without logging into Twitter and could still tweet out responses from their own accounts — even including screenshots of the president’s tweets.
Thus, President Trump didn’t prevent the Knight Institute from receiving information from the blocked users through Twitter. If the Institute isn’t hearing enough from the blocked users, then it’s because those users decided it’s not worth their time to tweet only to their own followers, and because the Institute didn’t even bother following most of them on Twitter in the first place.
Even if President Trump’s decision to block the seven individual plaintiffs caused the Institute some injury, the court’s ruling in favor of those plaintiffs alleviates any such harm. In effect, the district court was wrong to issue a judgment for the Institute. By not immediately mooting the Institute’s claims, the court violated the Constitution’s limits on its jurisdiction.
Complex procedural issues aside, President Trump has a constitutional right to block any Twitter user he wants. The president is entitled to block users from replying to his tweets because they are not entitled to take advantage of his personally built space and list of followers — many from before his presidency — to transmit their own derogatory messages to his followers.
President Trump amassed his 53.8 million Twitter followers as the result of substantial time and effort, not to mention financial expense. The court’s ruling allows random Twitter users, including the president’s harshest critics, to exploit the fruits of his labor by using his follower list to disseminate their own messages to President Trump’s followers — messages often contrary and even hostile to the president’s.
To the extent President Trump’s Twitter feed is a government-controlled account, its purpose is to disseminate information concerning — and generate public support for — the president’s legislative and political agenda.
The so-called victims are merely deprived of the ability to tap into President Trump’s list of 53.8 million followers — the equivalent of hijacking President Trump’s Christmas card list for personal gain. Do they have the constitutional right to mooch off another’s hard-earned social media presence simply because he won an election?
Twitter provides a direct, unfiltered channel through which President Trump can communicate his message to millions of Americans. The court should allow him to take advantage of Twitter’s block feature to carry out that communication.
Blocking the Left’s most vicious users enables President Trump to convey his message without it being diluted by other aspects of Twitter’s platform — namely, the reply function — that are beyond his control.
Free speech for anti-Trumpers is not under attack here. Only our president’s constitutional rights are.
Dan Backer serves as counsel to the Coolidge Reagan Foundation. He is the founding attorney of political law, a campaign finance and political law firm in Alexandria, Virginia.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.