Judge rules Trump can't block users on Twitter

A federal district court judge on Wednesday ruled that President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says he doesn't want to use 'adversary' to describe Russia Comey urges Americans to vote for Democrats in midterms Roby wins Alabama GOP runoff, overcoming blowback from Trump criticism MORE can't block people from viewing his Twitter feed over their political views.

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Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, said President Trump’s Twitter account is a public forum and blocking people who reply to his tweets with differing opinions constitutes viewpoint discrimination, which violates the First Amendment.

The court’s ruling is a major win for the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, which brought the lawsuit on behalf of seven people who were blocked from the @realDonaldTrump account because of opinions they expressed in reply tweets.

Buchwald, who was appointed by former President Clinton, rejected Trump’s argument that the First Amendment does not apply in this case and that the president’s personal First Amendment interests supersede those of the plaintiffs. 

She suggested in her 75-page opinion that Trump could have ignored his opponents’ reply tweets. 

“No First Amendment harm arises when a government’s 'challenged conduct' is simply to ignore the [speaker], as the Supreme Court has affirmed ‘that it is free to do,’ ” she wrote. “Stated otherwise, 'a person’s right to speak is not infringed when government simply ignores that person while listening to others,' or when the government ‘amplifies’ the voice of one speaker over those of others.”

Buchwald explained that blocking someone on Twitter goes further than just muting them. 

“Muting preserves the muted account’s ability to reply to a tweet sent by the muting account, blocking precludes the blocked user from ‘seeing or replying to the blocking user’s tweets’ entirely,” she said.

In addition to Trump, the lawsuit named White House social media director and assistant to the president Daniel Scavino.

But Buchwald did not order Trump or Scavino to unblock the individual plaintiffs in the case or prohibit them from blocking others from the account based on their views as the plaintiffs’ had asked.

She said a declaratory judgment should be sufficient.

“Because no government official is above the law and because all government officials are presumed to follow the law once the judiciary has said what the law is, we must assume that the President and Scavino will remedy the blocking we have held to be unconstitutional,” Buchwald wrote.

Jameel Jaffer, director of the Knight First Amendment Institute, which the Knight Foundation helped found, tweeted a screen shot of that line from Buchwald's opinion. 

“Clock’s ticking @realDonaldTrump & @DanScavino,” he wrote.

Josh Geltzer, executive director of Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, said the court’s ruling is a critical victory in preserving free speech in the digital age.

“The court's thorough decision recognizes that the President's use of @realDonaldTrump on Twitter makes it the type of public forum in which the government may not, under the First Amendment, silence its critics,” he said in a statement.

A Department of Justice spokesperson said the agency respectfully disagrees with the court’s decision and is considering its next steps.

Updated at 3:33 p.m.