The Second Circuit ruled Tuesday that President Donald Trump violated the first amendment by blocking people whose views he disagreed with from his Twitter account. The case, brought by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, could have broader implications for standards of free speech in a social-media driven public.
Siding with the Knight Institute, which represented the seven plaintiffs whose twitter accounts were blocked by Trump from the @realDonaldTrump account, the unanimous decision by the 2nd U.S Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan maintained that Trump’s twitter is a “public forum” through which Trump conducts significant government business. As such, by limiting access to the account, the panel wrote that the White House is violating the right to “petition their government for redress of grievances.”
Representing the panel, Judge Barrington D. Parker said these platforms have expanded discussion of public concern, generating a larger range of ideas than ever before. As a result, there should be exclusive to the discussion that would limit the input of users.
“The irony in all of this is that we write at a time in the history of this nation when the conduct of our government and its officials is subject to wide-open, robust debate.” Parker said. “In resolving this appeal, we remind the litigants and the public that if the First Amendment means anything, it means that the best response to disfavored speech on matters of public concern is more speech, not less.”
The Justice Department has since deemed the ruling “fundamentally misconceived,” saying the account was used to disseminate Trump’s personal views, not to offer a platform for public discussion.
But Knight Institute executive director Jameel Jaffer argued that due to their public-facing nature, public officials’ social-media accounts are an important area of government policy and an important forum for discussion.
“This decision will ensure that people aren’t excluded from these forums simply because of their viewpoints. It will help ensure the integrity and vitality of digital spaces that are increasingly important to our democracy,” Jaffer said in a statement after the ruling.
Established in May 2016 by Columbia and the Knight Foundation, the Knight Institute aims to define and defend First Amendment issues in the digital media era of the 21st Century. The institute serves as a prominent landmark to University President Lee Bollinger’s personal commitment to issues of free speech as a First Amendment scholar who has represented two cases in front of the Supreme Court.
The group of seven plaintifffs includes professors, comedy writers, scientists, and legal analysts that have been blocked from the account after publishing views that prompted the President to bar them from engaging on Twitter in the future.