Blocking people you don’t agree with on Twitter may be a good way to silence them in your social sphere, but when you’re president of the United States, it’s unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled on Wednesday.
In a case against President Donald Trump — and his use of his personal Twitter account @realDonaldTrump — U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald of the Southern District of New York ruled that excluding people based on their viewpoint was impermissible under the First Amendment.
“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 wrote. “The answer to both questions is no.”
Trump established his Twitter account in 2009 and for years used it to comment on everything from President Obama’s citizenship to Rosie O’Donnell’s physical appearance. As is well known by now, he has continued to tweet from the account on a regular basis since being elected in November 2016, using the forum for official government business as well as continuing to muse on random matters.
He’s tweeted more than 37,000 times over the years to an audience that has grown to 52 million followers.
The case against Trump, former communications director Hope Hicks, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and social media director Dan Scavino, was brought by the Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute, as well as several Twitter users who criticized the president and were subsequently blocked, according to Buzzfeed News. Sanders and Hicks were later dismissed as defendants.
“Though the architects of the Constitution surely didn’t contemplate presidential Twitter accounts, they understood that the president must not be allowed to banish views from public discourse simply because he finds them objectionable,” Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight Institute, said in a New York Times story last summer. “Having opened this forum to all comers, the president can’t exclude people from it merely because he dislikes what they’re saying.”
“This decision is a critical victory in preserving free speech in the digital age,” said Joshua Geltzer, executive director of Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP), which filed a brief in support of the challenge to the president. “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. We congratulate the Knight Institute on this groundbreaking victory.”