White House Won’t Contest that Trump Blocked Twitter Users for Criticizing Him

September 27, 2017

In connection with a lawsuit filed by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, the White House indicated that it will not contest that the president blocked Twitter users because they criticized the president or his policies. This statement, together with new details about the operation of the @realDonaldTrump account, appears in a stipulation that was negotiated by the Institute and the Justice Department and filed with the court earlier this week.

“The White House’s concessions here amount to an acknowledgment that the president and his aides have engaged in viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment,” said Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight Institute. “We look forward to making this case to the court.”

The Knight Institute’s lawsuit, filed last July, contends that President Trump and his aides violated the First Amendment by blocking seven people from the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account because of opinions they expressed in comment threads associated with the president’s tweets. Yesterday’s filing includes a stipulation of facts that both the Knight Institute and the Justice Department agreed to for the purposes of the lawsuit.

From the stipulation:

The parties have agreed that this Stipulation applies exclusively to this litigation and does not constitute an admission for purposes of any other proceeding, and Defendants have agreed that they will not contest Plaintiffs’ allegation that the Individual Plaintiffs were blocked from the President’s Twitter account because the Individual Plaintiffs posted tweets that criticized the President or his policies.

The joint stipulation includes other details relating to the operation of the @realDonaldTrump account. For example, it states that the president blocked Twitter users personally. It also states that Dan Scavino, the White House Social Media Director, has access to the @realDonaldTrump account, sometimes drafts messages for the president, and sometimes posts messages on behalf of the president. Other White House aides also suggest content for the president’s tweets. Additionally, adopting the language of the Knight Institute’s complaint, the stipulation observes that, since his inauguration, the president has “used the @realDonaldTrump account as a channel for communicating and interacting with the public about his administration.”

“As the Attorney General reminded law students only yesterday, the First Amendment is in danger when an expressive forum is transformed into ‘an echo chamber of … homogenous thought’ or ‘a shelter for fragile egos,’” said Katie Fallow, senior staff attorney with the Knight Institute. “This reminder is equally appropriate here.”

The filing also included a briefing schedule agreed to by both parties. The government’s opening brief in the case will be filed on Oct. 13.

Read the stipulation and the scheduling order.


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.