Knight Institute Urges Supreme Court to Protect Against Government Censorship in Public Forums Online

January 22, 2019

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University filed a friend-of-the-court brief late last week in Manhattan Community Access Corporation v. Halleck, a case before the United States Supreme Court raising the question whether the First Amendment bars a public-access cable television station in New York City from discriminating on the basis of viewpoint. The case could have broad implications for free speech online, the Knight Institute argues.

“Increasingly, the most important government-established forums for public discourse are online,” said Katie Fallow, senior staff attorney at the Knight Institute. “As more and more public officials use social media to communicate with their constituents, it’s important that the Court affirms that the core requirements of the First Amendment apply to these government-controlled digital spaces, even when they are established on privately owned platforms.”

The brief urges the Court to reaffirm its public forum doctrine, which recognizes that expressive spaces either owned or controlled by the government are subject to the First Amendment. Today, the government has moved online, regularly hosting virtual town halls and using social media such as Facebook and Twitter to explain policies and invite and enable the public to post comments and questions in response. These government-controlled forums are new and important venues for First Amendment-protected expression.

Earlier this month, in a case argued by the Knight Institute, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled—in the first appeals court decision of its kind—that the First Amendment applies to government-run social media accounts. In May 2018, a federal trial court in New York held in Knight Institute v. Trump that President Trump’s blocking of critics from his Twitter account violated the First Amendment. The Trump administration has appealed that decision, and the case is currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Read the brief here.

For more information, contact Lorraine Kenny, Communications Director, the Knight Institute at lorraine.kenny@knightcolumbia.org. 

About the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University

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. 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.