Appeals court affirms ruling Trump can’t block people on Twitter

A lower court's decision was appealed.

Jul 9, 2019, 10:42 am*

Tech

Andrew Wyrich 

Andrew Wyrich

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Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC-BY-SA)

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed a lower court’s decision that President Donald Trump cannot block critics on Twitter.

The second circuit appeals court upheld a ruling from U.S. District Court in the Southern District that found Trump’s blocking of critics was unconstitutional. That ruling was appealed by the administration, leading to Tuesday’s decision.

The lawsuit was brought by a group of Twitter users and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.

“President Donald J. Trump appeals from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York… concluding that he engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination by utilizing Twitter’s ‘blocking’ function to limit certain users’ access to his social media account, which is otherwise open to the public at large, because he disagrees with their speech. We hold that he engaged in such discrimination and, consequently, affirm the judgment below,” Judge Barrington D. Parker wrote in the decision.

The decision is careful to point out that it was not ruling on whether an elected official can block someone from their private social media accounts or whether social media companies are bound by the First Amendment.

However, as Parker wrote:

“We do conclude, however, that 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.”

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit argued that Trump’s Twitter account was a public forum. The president routinely makes announcements about his administration on the platform, including hirings and firings.

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*First Published: Jul 9, 2019, 10:35 am