President Trump's e-haters just won a major skirmish in the battle against his tough-talking tweets.
Federal district court Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald, a Bill Clinton appointee, ruled on Wednesday that Trump is no longer allowed to block people from viewing his Twitter feed.
As we reported in July 2017, a free-speech group sued President Donald Trump for blocking Twitter users from his @realDonaldTrump account, arguing the practice violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The lawsuit alleged that because Trump frequently turns to Twitter to make policy statements, his account qualifies as a public forum from which the government cannot exclude people on the basis of their views. Twitter users are unable to see or respond to tweets from accounts that block them, although there is nothing preventing Trump from simply muting any accounts that bother him without the knowledge of the counterparty.
“President Trump’s Twitter account has become an important source of news and information about the government, and an important forum for speech by, to, or about the president,” Jameel Jaffer, an executive director at the Knight Institute said in a statement. “The First Amendment applies to this digital forum in the same way it applies to town halls and open school board meetings. The White House acts unlawfully when it excludes people from this forum simply because they’ve disagreed with the president.”
The lawsuit was brought by the Knight First Amendment Institute, a non-profit organization affiliated with Columbia University, and joined by seven individual Twitter users, and claimed that Trump blocked a number of accounts whose owners replied to his tweets with comments that criticized, mocked or disagreed with the president. The lawsuit, filed in Southern District of NY, pled that Trump's blocking of the accounts amounted to an unconstitutional effort to suppress dissent.
Fast forward to today when a judge ruled that Trump, indeed, not allowed to block users. It is unclear if Twitter will no force compliance and remove all of Trump's blocks, and whether the president is still allowed to mute users he finds objectionable.
Full order below:
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER: granting in part and denying in part 34 Motion for Summary Judgment; granting in part and denying in part 42 Motion for Summary Judgment. We conclude that we have jurisdiction to entertain this dispute. Plaintiffs have established legal injuries that are traceable to the conduct of the President and Daniel Scavino and, despite defendants' suggestions to the contrary, their injuries are redressable by a favorable judicial declaration. Plaintiffs lack standing, however, to sue Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who is dismissed as a defendant. Hope Hicks is also dismissed as a defendant, in light of her resignation as White House Communications Director.
Turning to the merits of plaintiffs' First Amendment claim, we hold that the speech in which they seek to engage is protected by the First Amendment and that the President and Scavino exert governmental control over certain aspects of the @realDonaldTrump account, including the interactive space of the tweets sent from the account. That interactive space is susceptible to analysis under the Supreme Court's forum doctrines, and is properly characterized as a designated public forum.
The viewpoint-based exclusion of the individual plaintiffs from that designated public forum is proscribed by the First Amendment and cannot be justified by the President's personal First Amendment interests. In sum, defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part, and plaintiffs' cross-motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part. The Clerk of the Court is directed to terminate the motions pending at docket entries 34 and 42. SO ORDERED. (Signed by Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald on 5/23/2018) (ama) (Entered: 05/23/2018)
Trump's reaction should be interesting.
Meanwhile, Twitter's own "shadowbanning" of mostly conservative accounts continues.
Full order below: