President Trump Blocking Twitter Critics is a First Amendment Violation

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In a decision in a federal court in New York, U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald ruled that President Trump may not block critics on Twitter for not sharing his political views. Doing so violates the First Amendment, the judge ruled.

“While we must recognize, and are sensitive to, the president’s personal First Amendment rights, he cannot exercise those rights in a way that infringes the corresponding First Amendment rights of those who have criticized him,” the judge said. The lawsuit was filed by Columbia University’s Knight Amendment Institute and seven Twitter users whom Trump blocked.

“Media reports say among those Trump has blocked are novelists Stephen King and Anne Rice, comedian Rosie O’Donnell, model Chrissy Teigen, actress Marina Sirtis and the military veterans political action committee,” Reuters reported.

However, the judge did not compel Trump and co-defendant Dan Scavino, who serves as the president’s social media director, to unblock users, noting that a declaratory judgment was sufficient and that she assumed the president’s team will abide by her ruling.

In arriving at her decision, Buchwald agreed with Columbia University and the plaintiffs in that President Trump’s Twitter account is a public forum, and that blocking critics amounts to viewpoint discrimination, a violation of the First Amendment. Because the personal @realDonaldTrump account, which was established long before Trump’s presidential bid, was used by Trump in a presidential capacity in the past, Buchwald argued that it should be treated as a government account. The U.S. National Archives previously stated that tweets from the president’s account will be preserved and are considered presidential records. Trump has 52.2 million followers at the time of writing, and he has posted  more than 37,600 tweets since the account was created.

“This case requires us to consider whether a public official may, consistent with the First Amendment, ‘block’ a person from his Twitter account in response to the political views that person has expressed, and whether the analysis differs because that public official is the President of the United States,” Buchwald said said in her opinion. “The answer to both questions is no.”

Buchwald followed similar precedents set in a prior 2017 case involving a county board of supervisor blocking a critic on Twitter. Twitter users who are blocked may not respond to Trump’s tweets. Rather than blocking critics, Buchwald suggested that Trump used the mute function on Twitter to avoid seeing comments from those who don’t share in his viewpoints.

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