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26 May 2018 | US & Canada

Federal Judge Stopped Donald Trump From Blocking Twitter Followers

Federal Judge Stopped Donald Trump From Blocking Twitter Followers

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that President Trump cannot block people from his Twitter account in response to their political views because it violates their right to free speech.

U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald reasoned in her opinion that Twitter is a designated public forum, so blocking users based on their political speech “constitutes viewpoint discrimination that violates the First Amendment.”

She rejected the president’s defense that the First Amendment didn’t apply, and “the President’s personal First Amendment interests supersede those of the plaintiffs,” the Knight First Amendment Institute and others.

Buchwald also disagreed with the contention of the defense that injunctive relief can never be awarded against the president, but she decided that she didn’t need to “enter that legal thicket at this time.” She instead settled on a declaratory judgment that “no government official — including the President — is above the law.”

She said that “the individual plaintiffs were indisputably blocked” by Mr. Trump “as a result of viewpoint discrimination.”

In the original suit, the group of blocked users describes Mr. Trump’s frequent use of Twitter as “a kind of digital town hall in which the president and his aides use the tweet function to communicate news and information to the public.”

“Because of the way the President and his aides use the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account, the account is a public forum under the First Amendment,” the lawsuit states. “Defendants have made the account accessible to all, taking advantage of Twitter’s interactive platform to directly engage the President’s 33 million followers.”

Buchwald applied the Supreme Court’s three-part standard for determining whether the communication constitutes private speech or government speech:

  1. If the speech has been used historically to convey state messages
  2. If it is “often closely identified in the public mind” with the government
  3. How much “direct control over the messages conveyed” stems from the government

The defendants disputed this definition, arguing that the @realDonaldTrump account is technically the president’s personal page, while @POTUS is designated as his official presidential Twitter account. With this distinction, Mr. Trump’s account would qualify as private speech.

However, the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York found that this was not the case.

“In so holding, we reject the defendants’ contentions that the First Amendment does not apply in this case and that the President’s personal First Amendment interests supersede those of plaintiffs,” the memorandum reads.

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