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Justice Dept. Appeals Ruling that Trump Can't Block Twitter Users

by Countable | Updated on 6.5.18

UPDATE - June 5, 2018

  • The Justice Department is appealing a ruling made last month that the president can't block critics of his Twitter account.

  • U.S. District Court Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald wrote in her May 23 ruling that blocking online critics is unconstitutional and a violation of the First Amendment.

  • Three DoJ officials filed notice of their appeal on Monday to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on behalf of President Donald Trump and Dan Scavino, the White House social media director.

Countable's original story appears below.

Trump Can't Block Users on Twitter, Judge Rules

UPDATE - May 24, 2018: A federal judge has ruled that President Donald Trump and his aides cannot block critics from @realDonaldTrump. Twitter users can’t see or respond to tweets from the accounts that block them.

  • U.S. District Court Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald wrote in her ruling that blocking online critics is unconstitutional and a violation of the First Amendment:

"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," Buchwald wrote.

Countable's original story appears below.


Trump Sued For Blocking Americans on Twitter

Do you have a Constitutional right to follow @realDonaldTrump on Twitter?

That’s the question at the center of a lawsuit in which seven Twitter users are suing the President for blocking them on the social media platform. Twitter users can’t see or respond to tweets from the accounts that block them.

The lawsuit, filed by the Knights First Amendment Institute, claims it’s unconstitutional for President Trump to block people on Twitter. The organization, based out of Columbia University, argues that Trump’s Twitter feed is a public forum--which government officials can’t bar people from accessing.

From the lawsuit:

"The @realDonaldTrump account is a kind of digital town hall in which the president and his aides use the tweet function to communicate news and information to the public, and members of the public use the reply function to respond to the president and his aides and exchange views with one another."

The President, former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and Trump’s social media director Daniel Scavino are also named in the lawsuit.

The Twitter lawsuit got a boost from another, similar, lawsuit last week. On Tuesday a federal judge in Virginia ruled that a federal official cannot block users on her Facebook page.

That case involved Loudoun County Supervisor Phyllis J. Randall who blocked a constituent from her Facebook page. Randall had referred to the page as her "county Facebook page" and posted "I really want to hear from ANY Loudoun citizen on ANY issues, request, criticism, compliment, or just your thoughts." However, after a citizen posted about alleged corruption, Randall blocked the user from her page. He sued.

U.S. District Judge James C. Cacheris ruled that Randall "engaged in viewpoint discrimination," a violation of the First Amendment. A similar argument may be used against Trump.

The seven Twitter users who filed the suit claim their accounts were blocked by Trump, or his aides, after they responded to the President’s tweets with critical comments.

Eugene Gu, one of the plaintiffs, said he was blocked after he tweeted at the President: "Covfefe: the same guy who doesn’t proofread his Twitter handles the nuclear button." This was in response to Trump tweeting, then deleting, “Despite the constant negative press covfefe.”

Another plaintiff, comedian Nick Pappas, claims he was blocked after tweeting at the President, in regards to the travel ban, "Trump is right. The government should protect the people. That's why the courts are protecting us from him."

They, and the other five plaintiffs, argue the block is an attempt to "suppress dissent" in a public forum—a direct violation of their right to free speech.

Last week, Trump also blocked model, author Chrissy Teigen, who has over 6 million Twitter followers, but she has not stated whether she intends to sue Trump to unblock her.

All of this is compounded by the ever-growing importance of @realDonaldTrump. When White House press briefings conflicted with the President’s tweets, Spicer claimed the 140-characters coming from Trump were "official statements." And in June, there was a House proposal to record all the President’s tweets. The bill, known as The COVFEFE Act, would ensure the tweets from @realDonaldTrump are preserved under the Presidential Records Act, which prohibits the president from destroying records without first consulting the archivist.

"President Trump’s Twitter account has become an important source of news and information about the government, and an important forum for speech by, to, or about the president," Jameel Jaffer, the executive director of the Knight Institute, said in an online statement. “The First Amendment applies to this digital forum in the same way it applies to town halls and open school board meetings. The White House acts unlawfully when it excludes people from this forum simply because they’ve disagreed with the president.”

Should the President be allowed to block users on his private Twitter account? Or has @realDonaldTrump become a digital town hall? Tell your reps by using the "Take Action" button below.

—Josh Herman

(Photo Credit: Pixabay / Creative Commons)

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Written by Countable

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(175)
  • Patty
    07/31/2017
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    President trumps twitter account is official communication and therefore subject to being archived and no citizen, short of obscene or threatening messages, should be blocked. He has issued several policy statements such as the recent transgender ban, thus making his account official public business.

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  • Joanne
    07/31/2017
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    Sue trump. If the people have to listen to things they don't like coming from him, he needs to man up and listen to what we have to say!!! To bad if he doesn't like it!!!

    Like (74)
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  • C
    07/31/2017
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    This is a free speech issue and the president is an elected official and he has already acknowledged that when he speaks on twitter he does so as the president. Therefore either everyone should be able to respond ...or no one. Digital media MUST be treated like the public square when it comes to the rights of its users.

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  • Deirdre
    07/31/2017
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    I think every single American should sue trump for destroying our country

    Like (32)
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  • JayinNC
    07/31/2017
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    If chump can ramble his anti constitutional bull shit then he can listen to the opinions of American citizens. He works for us & he is not a king. It's our 1st Amendment right.

    Like (22)
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  • Gail
    07/31/2017
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    Congress needs to block Trump from the Presidency. Disgusting, sadistic, unethical. He's destroying the Republican Party. Impeach him.

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  • Jeanne
    07/31/2017
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    I don't know much about Twitter but I'm liking anyone who sues 45. Hope they win.

    Like (18)
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  • Matthew
    07/31/2017
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    I think we will all being suing the Manchurian at some point during or after his tenure as "president." I also do not want him to get off with no penalty for his actions as "president." He is ruining America. Hands down worst POTUS EVER!!!!

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  • Jacob
    07/31/2017
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    What an ass our President is.

    Like (13)
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  • Lexpost
    05/27/2018
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    A private citizen is free to decide to whom they will speak with or listen to. Since he decided to use his account as a means to disseminate official government policy and positions, he made his twitter account more than just a private citizen’s account and changed its nature to that of a governmental bullhorn.

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  • Azrael
    08/01/2017
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    This is the government This is not a private business He's on our dime He lives by our rules If he doesn't like his life and comments to be an open book, he can walk out the door, go back to his private life Until such time....

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  • S
    08/01/2017
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    Good! He has no business blocking a Twitter account just because the owner expresses disapproval or disagreement with him. One more example of his inability to comprehend the protections of free speech provided by the Constitution. Does he even know what the Constitution is or that it even exists. I think not in that it seems his mantra is: in all things Donald Trump we trust and will defend (regardless of its immorality, stupidity, legality, etc.)

    Like (9)
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  • Karen
    07/31/2017
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    I believe Americans can follow President Trump's personal Twitter. He have 2 twitter accounts @POTUS which will archive his tweets & his personal Twitter @realDonaldTrump. He can spew anything on his personal twitter & can't spew on @POTUS. I follow his personal tweets more than his POTUS tweets He can't block anyone because he say more on his personal twitter & wants to challenge us on twitter

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  • Lawrence
    08/01/2017
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    "The White House acts unlawfully when it excludes people from this forum simply because they’ve disagreed with the president.” The President shouldn't be allowed to block users on his private Twitter account.

    Like (8)
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  • Scott
    07/31/2017
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    You should support this lawsuit. If he wants to be on social media as the President, then it should be a two way street with the citizens.

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  • Monica
    07/31/2017
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    This is freedom of speech!

    Like (7)
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  • Ann
    08/02/2017
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    Time for Twitter to get rid of his account unless he abides by its rules of online conduct. But legally I think that his real Donald Trump account is his private account and thus his business. So you'd probably have to fight them in a court of law to get him to stop blocking you on that one. He can't stop you from folllowing the public account. But if he blocks you honestly he's doing you a favor. He's in a bubble of sycophants anyways; who cares if he lets us send tweets to him because he doesn't listen or care, and neither does Dan Scavino. And 2/3 of his followers are certainly bots or citizens who dislike him. He would care most if his follower numbers go down dramatically.

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  • Todd
    07/31/2017
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    Sue Trump for ALL of his attempts to censor free speech and freedom of the press!

    Like (7)
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  • MayBird
    05/27/2018
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    I think this is hilarious.

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  • Sara
    08/03/2017
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    Donald Trump has chosen Twitter to share loads of fake and not so fake news and information. He does not have the right to block anyone. Any appropriate president would know that.

    Like (6)
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