A federal judge ruled on Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s practice of blocking critics on Twitter is unconstitutional, siding with the Columbia’s Knight First Amendment Institute in its lawsuit against Trump and one of his aides.
Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald of the Southern District of New York agreed with the Knight Institute that Trump’s Twitter account is a public forum, which means the First Amendment prevents public officials from restricting access based on people’s viewpoints.
The Knight Institute is committed to defining and defending First Amendment issues in the digital media era of the 21st century. Established in May 2016 by Columbia and the Knight Foundation with an endowment of $60 million, the institute is a prominent example of University President Lee Bollinger’s personal commitment to free speech.
The Knight Institute sued Trump last spring on behalf of seven Trump critics who had been blocked on Twitter, arguing that Trump’s use of Twitter to announce policy and engage with the public constituted a public forum.
“We thought it was a very important precedent to establish that the accounts of public officials on social media do operate as public forums where people’s First Amendment rights are protected, which enables them to contribute to the dialogue about policy from the local level up to the national level and prevents public officials, effectively, from creating echo chambers where you block out dissent,” Knight Institute staff attorney Carrie DeCell said.
The institute has filed several other lawsuits against the Trump administration for First Amendment issues, including the government’s examination of the social media accounts of people trying to immigrate to the United States.
The Knight Institute hopes that the ruling against Trump will set a precedent for other public officials across the country.
“We certainly hope that other public officials will take note of the ruling and will operate their social media accounts consistent with the First Amendment restrictions on their ability to silence critics,” DeCell said.
Currently the Knight Institute is representing a man in a similar case in Loudoun County, Virginia, where he was denied access to a Facebook page by a local county official.
Buchwald refrained from filing an injunction against Trump to immediately unblock his critics as the district court expects him to comply with the law. The Trump administration has not decided yet whether Trump will unblock his critics on Twitter as directed by Buchwald or whether it will appeal the ruling, the New York Times reported.
“The more important social media becomes to the public discourse, the more important it becomes to defend First Amendment rights on social media,” DeCell said.