Our Tweeter-in-Chief Donald Trump got sued Tuesday for blocking people on Twitter. Several people, joined by Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute, said POTUS violated their freedom of speech.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and White House Director of Social Media Dan Scavino are co-defendants. From the lawsuit, filed at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York:
Defendants’ viewpoint-based blocking of the Individual Plaintiffs from the @realDonaldTrump account infringes the Individual Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights. It imposes an unconstitutional restriction on their participation in a designated public forum. It imposes an unconstitutional restriction on their right to access statements that Defendants are otherwise making available to the public at large. It also imposes an unconstitutional restriction on their right to petition the government for redress of grievances.
So what got the plaintiffs blocked? Here’s a few of the offending tweets, which were cited in the lawsuit.
From legal analyst Rebecca Buckwalter on June 6.
To be fair you didn’t win the WH: Russia won it for you. pic.twitter.com/iPUXKopd9B
— RebeccaBuckwalterPoz (@rpbp) June 6, 2017
From police officer Brandon Neely on June 12:
Congrats and now black lung won’t be covered under #TrumpCare
— Brandon Neely (@BrandonTXNeely) June 12, 2017
And one more from Eugene Gu, a doctor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, on June 18:
Covfefe: The same guy who doesn’t proofread his Twitter handles the nuclear button.
— Eugene Gu, MD (@eugenegu) June 18, 2017
All told, seven individuals joined the lawsuit, and demand an injunction: The president must unblock them, and stop blocking them and others “on the basis of viewpoint.” They also demand court costs. Buckwalter explained her decision to sue, in a Tuesday article for the Pacific Standard.
Clicking “block” probably only took a few seconds. Being blocked, however, is something that will affect me for a long time. I’ve traveled and lived in countries where voicing dissent can have negative repercussions. Not once had I ever thought I might have to fear losing rights for expressing my political views in the U.S. Feeling silenced and marginalized at home has shaken me.
LawNewz.com reached out to the White House for comment. They’ve said that the president uses Twitter for official statements.
— Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) June 6, 2017
This lawsuit makes good on a warning the Knight Institute sent the president on June 6. At the time, Washington University School of Law Professor Gregory Magarian told LawNewz.com that a lawsuit would be unprecedented. He spoke to us again on Tuesday about this new complaint, and offered his take on how it might go.
“This lawsuit raises novel issues about the First Amendment and social media, so we should be careful in predicting the result,” he wrote in an email. “Based on what I know, I think the lawsuit has substantial merit.”
The plaintiffs argue that Trump uses Twitter to announce policy and have arguments. This would make it a “limited public forum.”
“Usually public forums are actually owned by the government, but Trump’s (and by extension the government’s) control of his Twitter account should overcome the technical difference between private and government ownership,” Magarian said. This isn’t to say the government can’t exclude speech that has nothing to do with the forum’s purpose. “Trump could, for example, exclude someone who insisted on doing nothing but posting recipes on his Twitter feed.”
But the First Amendment prohibits the government from kicking speech off a limited public forum because of the speaker’s or message’s viewpoint.
“Trump’s blocking of people who criticize him looks like a classic example of impermissible, viewpoint-based discrimination,” Magarian said.
[Screengrab via ABC]
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