Trump Wants New Hearing In Battle Over Twitter Blocks

The White House is asking a federal appellate court to reconsider its recent ruling that President Donald Trump violated the First Amendment by blocking critics on Twitter.

The ruling, issued last month by a three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, is “fundamentally misconceived,” the Justice Department argues in papers filed late last week.

“The @realDonaldTrump account belongs to Donald Trump in his personal capacity, and his ability and decision to exclude individuals from that personal property are likewise independent of his public office,” the Justice Department writes.

The administration is asking the 2nd Circuit to re-hear the case with a full court -- meaning all or most of the court's 14 judges.

The legal battle dates to 2017, when the Knight Institute at Columbia University sued Trump on behalf of seven critics who were blocked by him on Twitter. The organization argued that Trump violated the critics' free speech rights.



The Knight Institute argued that the @realDonaldTrump account is a "public forum" -- meaning that it is comparable to city streets, parks and other locales where the government can't prevent people from speaking based on their views.

U.S. District Court Judge Naomo Reice Buchwald in New York agreed with the Knight Institute and ruled that Trump acted unconstitutionally by blocking people based on their viewpoints.

The Justice Department then appealed to the 2nd Circuit, arguing that Trump acts in a “personal” capacity, as opposed to an official one, when he blocks people on Twitter.

The appellate judges rejected that position in an opinion issued last month, ruling that evidence of the account's official nature is “overwhelming.”

They noted that since becoming president, Trump has used the account almost daily to communicate about his administration. “He uses the account to announce 'matters related to official government business,' including high-level White House and cabinet level staff changes as well as changes to major national policies” the opinion states.

The Justice Department is now pressing the argument that Trump uses the account in a personal capacity when he blocks people.

“He began use of the account in 2009, long before he became President, and he will continue to have control over the account after he leaves public office. His ability to exclude others from this personal property is likewise independent of his office,” the lawyers write. “That authority was conferred on him by Twitter, not by the government.”

The Justice Department also compares Twitter to a physical space, suggesting that Trump's use of Twitter to issue public policy statements is akin to an official making an announcement from his or her residence. The administration's lawyers argue that just as politicians can control who visits their residences, they can decide who to block on Twitter.

“An official’s decision to exclude someone from his personal residence would not exercise the authority of the government, even if he were giving official statements on that property on that day,” the Justice Department writes. “And what is true for real property is likewise true for a social media account.”

2 comments about "Trump Wants New Hearing In Battle Over Twitter Blocks".
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  1. Roger Baker from NAPCO Media, August 27, 2019 at 11:24 a.m.

    If it's a personal account, why is the Justice Department getting involved rather than the subject's personal attorney? 

  2. Charles Pierce from Private, August 27, 2019 at 11:27 a.m.

    Court decision is correct.

    1) Foremost, the President uses it to make official announcements and also his official comments in capacity of his role as President. Well-documented in the majority opinion excerpt.

    2) The physical location analogy doesn't apply, in saying a communication account is equivalent to a physical location. But...going along with the false asertion of equivalency...the counter-argument, following the logic, is the President can't stop people from protesting outside the residence.

    3) The reality is he should not use his personal handle for public, official business. It is easy enough to create a twitter White House account and use that for all of his announcements. I am sure the media handle already exists via the White House Press account.

    4) It is absolutely true it is his personal Twitter account. Unfortunately, he needs to use it appropriately if he doesn't want it to be constitutionally liable to the first amendment, which generally prohibits government interference with free speech.

    5) Like Elon Musk's problems, there are challenges using public communications for your public-facing roles.

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