In a decision Wednesday, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that Twitter’s “interactive space” constitutes a public forum, and that blocking users violates their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech.
The court rejected the argument from Trump’s lawyers that the president’s own First Amendment rights would be abridged if he was not allowed to block users.
“In sum, we conclude that the blocking of the individual plaintiffs as a result of the political views they have expressed is impermissible under the First Amendment,” U.S. District Court Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald wrote in the ruling. “While we must recognize, and are sensitive to, the President’s personal First Amendment rights, he cannot exercise those rights in a way that infringes the corresponding First Amendment rights of those who have criticized him.”
The lawsuit against Trump, which also named White House social-media director Daniel Scavino among the defendants, was filed last year by Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute and seven individuals who said Trump had blocked them on Twitter.
The court denied the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction ordering Trump to unblock specific Twitter users. “[T]hough we conclude that injunctive relief may be awarded in this case — at minimum, against Scavino — we decline to do so at this time because declaratory relief is likely to achieve the same purpose,” the judge wrote in her ruling.
Judge Buchwald added, “Because no government official is above the law and because all government officials are presumed to follow the law once the judiciary has said what the law is, we must assume that the President and Scavino will remedy the blocking we have held to be unconstitutional.”
The suit had also named White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders as a defendant, but the court said the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue her in this case. Hope Hicks also was dismissed as a defendant “in light of her resignation as White House Communications Director,” Judge Buchwald ruled.
The full text of Judge Buchwald’s ruling is posted on the Knight First Amendment Institute’s website at this link.
Neither Trump nor the White House immediately responded to Wednesday’s ruling, on Twitter or elsewhere.