High Court Dismisses Case Over Trump Bid to Silence Twitter Critics

April 5, 2021 by Dan McCue
President Donald Trump responds to cheering supporters as he arrives for a campaign rally at Orlando Sanford International Airport in Sanford, Florida on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a case over former President Donald Trump’s efforts to prevent critics from posting to his personal Twitter page, but Justice Clarence Thomas said a high court reckoning with the power of social media is on the horizon.

“As Twitter made clear, the right to cut off speech lies most powerfully in the hands of the private digital platforms,” he wrote in a concurring opinion.

Essentially what the court said Monday was that the change in presidential administrations coupled with Twitter banning Trump in the wake of the Capitol Hill riot, rendered the case moot.

The court also formally threw out an appeals court ruling that found Trump violated the First Amendment whenever he blocked a critic to silence a viewpoint.

But while Justice Thomas agreed the case could no longer be decided by the court, he all but predicted the fundamental issue it raised will someday come before the court for a decision.

“Donald Trump, then president of the United States, blocked several users from interacting with his Twitter account. They sued. The Second Circuit held that the comment threads were a ‘public forum’ and that then-President Trump violated the First Amendment by using his control of the Twitter account to block the plaintiffs from accessing the comment threads,” Thomas wrote.

“[Yet] Trump, it turned out, had only limited control of the account. Twitter has permanently removed the account from the platform,” he continued.

Thomas opined that the disparity between Twitter’s control and Trump’s control is stark, to say the least.

“Mr. Trump blocked several people from interacting with his messages.Twitter barred Mr. Trump not only from interacting with a few users, but removed him from the entire platform, thus barring all Twitter users from interacting with his messages,” the justice wrote.

“Any control Mr. Trump exercised over the account greatly paled in comparison to Twitter’s authority, dictated in its terms of service, to remove the account ‘at any time for any or no reason,’” Thomas wrote. “Twitter exercised its authority to do exactly that. Because unbridled control of the account resided in the hands of a private party, First Amendment doctrine may

not have applied to respondents’ complaint of stifled speech.

“The Second Circuit feared that then-President Trump cut off speech by using the features that Twitter made available.” Thomas wrote. “But if the aim is to ensure that speech is not smothered, then the more glaring concern must perforce be the dominant digital platforms themselves.

“As Twitter made clear, the right to cut off speech lies most powerfully in the hands of private digital platforms. The extent to which that power matters for purposes of the First Amendment and the extent to which that power could lawfully be modified raise interesting and important questions. This petition,unfortunately, affords us no opportunity to confront them,” Thomas said.

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