NEW YORK — The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University today filed a lawsuit against President Trump and his staff for continuing to block critics from the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account. The legal action was filed on behalf of five individuals who remain blocked two years after a federal court held—in an earlier case brought by the Knight Institute—that the president’s Twitter account is a public forum and the president violated the First Amendment by blocking people on the basis of viewpoint.

“The president lost this battle more than two years ago when a federal court held that his practice of blocking critics from his Twitter account violates the First Amendment,” said Katie Fallow, Senior Staff Attorney at the Knight Institute. “It shouldn’t take another lawsuit to get the president to respect the rule of law and to stop blocking people simply because he doesn’t like what they’re posting.”

The Knight Institute filed a lawsuit in 2017 on behalf of seven individuals who had been blocked by President Trump and his staff from the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account. In May 2018, a federal judge ruled that the president’s practice of blocking critics from his Twitter account violates the First Amendment. In 2019, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit unanimously upheld the lower court’s ruling, and in March of this year, the court rejected a request by the Trump administration for a full-court review. The administration has until August 20 to seek review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The White House has unblocked the plaintiffs from the original suit and it has also, at the request of the Knight Institute, unblocked dozens of other individuals who were blocked on the basis of viewpoint. The White House has refused, however, to unblock two categories of individuals: those who cannot specify the tweet that provoked the president to block them, and those who were blocked before the president took office. Today’s suit focuses principally on those categories of Twitter users.

“Most political speech now takes place online,” said Meenakshi Krishnan, Legal Fellow at the Knight Institute. “It’s important that First Amendment protections established in analog contexts be defended in digital contexts as well.”

The Second Circuit was the second federal appellate court to hold that a public official’s social media account can be a public forum under the First Amendment. In January of last year, in a case also argued by the Knight Institute, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found in favor of a Virginia resident who was temporarily blocked from the Facebook page of a local public official.

Read today’s complaint here

Read more about the second Knight Institute v. Trump here

Read more about Knight Institute v. Trump here.

Lawyers on the case include, in addition to Fallow and Krishnan, Jameel Jaffer, Alex Abdo, and Carrie DeCell of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University; and Jessica Ring Amunson, Kara Brandeisky, Tassity Johnson, and Tali Leinwand of Jenner & Block LLP.

About the Knight First Amendment Institute

The Knight First Amendment Institute defends the freedoms of speech and the press in the digital age through strategic litigation, research, and public education. Its aim is to promote a system of free expression that is open and inclusive, that broadens and elevates public discourse, and that fosters creativity, accountability, and effective self-government.

About Jenner & Block LLP

Founded in 1914, Jenner & Block LLP is a law firm of international reach with more than 500 lawyers in five offices, including Chicago, London, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, DC.  The firm has been widely recognized for producing outstanding results in corporate transactions and securing significant litigation victories from the trial level through the United States Supreme Court. 

For more information, contact: Madeline Wood, Communications and Research Coordinator, [email protected]