Trump Can’t Block Critics From Twitter Account, Appeals Court Says

July 9, 2019 by Dan McCue
US President Donald Trump waits outside the West Wing of the White House for the arrival of Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani of Qatar on July 9, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

WASHINGTON –  President Donald Trump has been violating the Constitution by blocking his critics’ posts from his Twitter account, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

Earlier this year during oral arguments, Justice Department attorney Jennifer Utrecht argued Trump’s Twitter account was created long before he became president and that he is acting in a private capacity when he blocks individuals.

But the 2nd Circuit didn’t buy that argument, observing that Trump uses his account for “all manner of official purposes” and that he can’t exclude people simply because they disagree with him.

The ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York upheld a decision handed down last year by U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald, who found the First Amendment requires that Trump allow the public to comment on matters of public concern.

“The irony in all of this is that we write at a time in the history of this nation when the conduct of our government and its officials is subject to wide-open, robust debate” that generates a “level of passion and intensity the likes of which have rarely been seen,” U.S. Circuit Judge Barrington Parker wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel.

“This debate, as uncomfortable and as unpleasant as it frequently may be, is nonetheless a good thing,” Parker continued. “In resolving this appeal, we remind the litigants and the public that if the First Amendment means anything, it means that the best response to disfavored speech on matters of public concern is more speech, not less.”

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University sued Trump, Daniel Scavino, the White House director of social media, and former White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders on behalf of seven individuals blocked by Trump after criticizing his policies.

“The President violated the First Amendment when he used the blocking function to exclude the individual plaintiffs because of their disfavored speech,” Parker wrote.

The Manhattan-based appeals court went on to say that ‘While various ‘workarounds’ exist that would allow each of the Individual Plaintiffs to engage with the Account,” creating “burdens to speech as well as outright bans run afoul of the First Amendment.” 

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