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Trump Can’t Block People He Doesn't Like on Twitter, Appeals Court Says

A federal appeals court has upheld an earlier ruling that President Trump cannot silence people on Twitter without violating the First Amendment.

by Sarah Emerson
Jul 9 2019, 3:55pm

Image: Flickr/NATO

President Trump cannot block his haters on Twitter according to a Tuesday ruling by a federal appeals court.

The 3-0 decision out of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan upholds an earlier ruling that found Trump’s preference for blocking his critics to be unconstitutional.

“The First Amendment does not permit a public official who utilizes a social media account for all manner of official purposes to exclude persons from an otherwise open online dialogue because they expressed views with which the official disagrees,” wrote Judge Barrington D. Parker in Tuesday’s opinion.

Trump’s Twitter account @realDonaldTrump, which is separate from the official @POTUS handle previously held by President Barack Obama, bears “all the trappings of an official, state-run account,” Parker added.

In 2017, civil liberties group Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University sued Trump while representing seven people who the president had blocked. The federal lawsuit filed in the Southern District of New York argued that Trump was suppressing dissent in a public forum by silencing those who had disagreed with him.

“Twitter enables ordinary citizens to speak directly to public officials and to listen to and debate others about public issues, in much the same way they could if they were gathered on a sidewalk or in a public park, or at a city council meeting or town hall,” the Knight Institute wrote in its complaint.

Judge Naomi Buchwald sided with the seven individuals in May 2018 and characterized Trump’s decision to block them as viewpoint discrimination.

Trump was later ordered to unblock them, which he did, though other Twitter users not involved in the lawsuit remained blocked by the president at the time.

Clearly unhappy with the ruling, Trump appealed, and Justice Department lawyers said on his behalf that he can block people who “he does not wish to hear” without it being a constitutional violation.

The president claimed that the First Amendment doesn’t apply to his Twitter account as it is not a public space. And even if it were, blocking people wouldn’t prohibit them from interacting with his tweets as they could create new accounts for doing so. Trump also alleged that his posts are “government speech” and fall outside of the First Amendment’s purview.

“We are not persuaded,” Parker wrote. “We conclude that the evidence of the official nature of the Account is overwhelming...once the President has chosen a platform and opened up its interactive space to millions of users and participants, he may not selectively exclude those whose views he disagrees with.”