A unanimous federal court ruling today reaffirms President Trump blocking critics from his Twitter account violates the First Amendment as guaranteed by the US Constitution.
Today’s 3-0 ruling at the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upholds an earlier decision for a case filed by the First Amendment Institute at Columbia University on behalf of seven people who were blocked by the president after criticizing his policies, including California-based Eugene Gu, a physician-scientist who was researching congenital diseases in infants. He turned to Twitter when the issue was being debated by Congress.
“That is when I learned the value and importance of free speech. More than anywhere else on social media, Twitter is a place where you can speak out –including about science, health care, and human rights,” Gu said in a statement. Others blocked include a songwriter from Washington State, a Texas-based police officer, a university professor from Maryland, and a legal analyst from the nation’s capital.
The suit was originally filed against the president and his aides in 2017. In May 2018, the US District Court of New York held that his Twitter account constitutes a “public forum” under the First Amendment, barring the president from blocking constituents. After the ruling, the president unblocked the seven but filed an appeal. Today’s panel concluded that “once the President has chosen a platform and opened up its interactive space to millions of users and participants, he may not selectively exclude those whose views he disagrees with.” Additionally, the decision argues that blocking a user violates a person’s right to petition their government for a redress of grievance.
“Public officials’ social media accounts are now among the most significant forums for discussion of government policy,” said arguing attorney Jameel Jaffer in a statement, adding that the decision will ensure people aren’t excluded from such forums and will help to maintain the integrity of digital spaces.
The First Amendment to the US Constitution bars the government from making laws that inhibit the freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition of Americans. Public forum laws ensure that the government may not deny access to official business and statements made by the government, within reason. In 2017, the White House said that the president’s tweets are to be considered official statements as Trump often announces policy updates on his Twitter account @realDonaldTrump, which has more than 61 million followers. Going forward, it may make it more difficult for other politicians to block users who disagree with their policies openly in the comments section.
“With public officials across the country increasingly using social media to communicate with and foster debate among their constituents, today’s decision should make them think twice before hitting the block button when they don’t like what someone has posted,” said Katie Fallow, senior staff attorney at the Knight Institute. “It’s unconstitutional and undemocratic.”