Critics Blocked by Trump to Ask Court to Reinstate Access While Suit Proceeds

August 08, 2017

Seven people blocked by President Donald Trump on Twitter sent a letter today to the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York indicating that they intend to ask the court to order the president to unblock them while their lawsuit against him proceeds. The lawsuit, filed last month by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, contends that the president and his aides are violating the First Amendment by blocking critics from the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account.

“The technology is new, but the legal principle is well-settled,” said Jameel Jaffer, the Knight Institute’s executive director. “Government officials can’t exclude people from a public forum simply because they disagree with their views.  This principle applies to official social media accounts for the same reasons it applies to city council meetings and open school board meetings.”

In its letter, the Knight Institute contends that it is “substantially likely” that the court will rule that the president uses the @realDonaldTrump account principally for official purposes, and that the account constitutes a public forum subject to the First Amendment. Since the lawsuit was filed, the president and his aides have continued to use the @realDonaldTrump account for official purposes. For example, the president used the account to announce that the head of Homeland Security would replace his chief of staff, and to announce that he intended to impose a ban on transgender people in the military.

Allowing this First Amendment violation to continue risks normalizing it.
Katie Fallow

“We hope the court will order the president and his aides to restore our clients’ access to this forum while the suit proceeds,” said Katie Fallow, a senior staff attorney at the Knight Institute. “Allowing this First Amendment violation to continue risks normalizing it.”

Several other courts are also considering issues relating to censorship by public officials on social media. In July, a federal judge in Virginia ruled that a county official’s Facebook page constituted a public forum for First Amendment purposes and that the official had acted unconstitutionally by blocking a critic from the page. The American Civil Liberties Union also filed lawsuits against the governors of Maryland and Kentucky last month contending that they violated the First Amendment by blocking individuals from social media accounts. 

About the Knight Institute

The Knight First Amendment Institute is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization established by Columbia University and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to defend the freedoms of speech and press in the digital age through strategic litigation, research, and public education.