Donald Trump

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Trump Can't Block Twitter Users Under First Amendment, Judge Rules

May 23, 2018 - 1:22 pm

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- A court ruled Wednesday that President Donald Trump may not block Twitter followers.

The ruling issued by Manhattan U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald came in response to a 2017 lawsuit by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and several other plaintiffs.

Read Buchwald's Ruling

Buchwald wrote that a public official may not block a person from their Twitter account based on political views under the First Amendment, and there is no exception for the President of the United States.

Buchwald wrote that “portions of the @realDonaldTrump account -- the ‘interactive space’ where Twitter users may directly engage with the content of the President’s tweets -- are properly analyzed under the ‘public forum’ doctrines set forth by the Supreme Court."

Thus, Trump blocking anyone from interacting with him on Twitter based on political views is viewpoint discrimination and violates the First Amendment, Buchwald wrote.

“If the president was hosting kind of a ‘town hall’ that was open to the public at large, you cannot throw someone out simply because they criticize you,” Katie Fallow of the Knight First Amendment Institute told WCBS 880’s Ethan Harp, “and that is what happened here.”

Trump and his team had argued that the First Amendment does not apply in this case, and that Trump’s own First Amendment rights supersede those of the plaintiffs. The judge did not agree.

Buchwald also rejected the argument that the president cannot be subjected to injunctive relief – a court-ordered act or prohibition against an act. But Buchwald did not impose any orders on Trump, writing that a declaratory judgment that “no government official -- including the President -- is above the law, and all government officials are presumed to follow the law” is sufficient.

The individual plaintiffs in the case -- Rebecca Buckwalter, Philip Cohen, Holly Figueroa, Eugene Gu, Brandon Neely, Joseph Papp, and Nicholas Pappas – had all tweeted a message critical of Trump or his policies at one point and had all been blocked by Trump shortly thereafter.

Buckwalter is a writer and political consultant in Washington, D.C.; Cohen a university professor in Silver Spring, Maryland; Figueroa a songwriter and organizer in Seattl;  Gu a surgical resident in Nashville; Neely a police officer in Houston; Papp an author in Pittsburgh; and Pappas a comedy writer in New York, according to the Los Angeles Times.

They filed suit with the Knight Institute in July of last year.

“You know many of our plaintiffs said that it was pretty jarring when they saw that they had been personally blocked by the President of the United States,” Fallow said.

The ruling does not mention a deadline for the president or White House Social Media Director Dan Scavino to unblock the critics.

“But instead, (the judge) said that she would expect the government, the United States government, would abide by a federal court ruling,” Fallow said.