Second Circuit Hears Oral Arguments in Knight Institute Challenge to President Trump Blocking Critics on Twitter

March 26, 2019

NEW YORK- The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University was in a federal appeals court today defending its First Amendment victory in Knight Institute v. Trump. The case was brought on behalf of seven people who were blocked from the @realDonaldTrump account after they criticized the president and his policies. Following the district court’s ruling, President Trump unblocked the plaintiffs but also appealed the decision.

“The president uses his Twitter account as an extension of his office—to announce and defend government policy, to engage with foreign leaders, and to hire and fire White House staff,” said Jameel Jaffer, Executive Director of the Knight Institute who argued the case. “Having decided to use his account in this way, the First Amendment forecloses him from blocking people from the account simply because they’ve criticized him or his policies.”

In May of last year, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York held that the president’s Twitter account constitutes a “public forum” under the First Amendment and that the president is therefore barred from blocking speakers from the account on the basis of viewpoint. It also held that the president’s actions violate the First Amendment by distorting the debate in the comment threads, and by depriving followers of the @realDonaldTrump account of speech that would have been expressed by those who have been blocked. The government appealed the ruling.

“More and more public officials are using social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to speak to and hear from their constituents,” said Katie Fallow, Senior Staff Attorney at the Knight Institute. “It’s crucial that the courts protect the integrity and vitality of these spaces that have become so important to our democracy.”

Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit became the first appellate court in the country to hold that a public official’s social media account could constitute a public forum under the First Amendment. The case, argued by the Knight Institute, involved a government official blocking a critic from her Facebook page.

Lawyers on the case include, in addition to Jaffer and Fallow, Carrie DeCell, Alex Abdo, and Jake Carr from the Knight Institute, and Jessica Ring Amunson, Tassity Johnson, and Tali R. Leinwand from Jenner & Block.

Read more about Knight Institute v. Trump here: https://knightcolumbia.org/content/knight-institute-v-trump-lawsuit-challenging-president-trumps-blocking-critics-twitter

Details about the clients are here: https://knightcolumbia.org/content/i-was-blocked-realdonaldtrump

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

About the Knight 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.