President Trump violated the First Amendment by blocking his critics on Twitter, a federal appeals court ruled today, shutting down the White House’s request to overturn a lower court’s decision.
Several Twitter users who were blocked by @realDonaldTrump, represented by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, filed suit in 2017, arguing that their constitutional right to engage with officials in a public space was being violated.
The dispute has turned into whether Trump’s account, which he operated before becoming president, is still a private account or an official one and whether Twitter’s design created a “public forum” for speech. The lower court found last year that Trump used the account in an official capacity and that blocking users was an unconstitutional government restriction on speech.
The White House appealed, but the appeals court ruling found that the lower court’s ruling was appropriate. Today’s ruling says the account “bear[s] all the trappings of an official, state‐run account.” In no uncertain terms, the court says the evidence shows “substantial and pervasive government involvement.”
The court’s ruling was somewhat narrow, and in the decision, it said it did not rule on whether a government official’s private social media account was bound by the ruling, or whether social media companies need to moderate their platforms in line with the First Amendment generally. But the court found that a social media account used for official purposes must be open to dialogue.
“In resolving this appeal,” the court concludes, “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.”
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