Commentary

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Urged To Stop Blocking Critics

The same First Amendment organization that sued President Trump for blocking critics on Twitter is now asking Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a first-term Democrat from New York, to refrain from blocking people due to their political opinions.

“We understand from news reports that you may be blocking some Twitter users from your @AOC account because of the views they have expressed,” the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University says in a letter to Ocasio-Cortez. “This practice is unconstitutional, and we are writing in the hope of dissuading you from engaging in it.”

Ocasio-Cortez is currently facing lawsuits by three people -- including New York State Assembly Member Dov Hikind -- who say she violated their First Amendment rights by blocking them on social media.

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Hikind, a Brooklyn resident who currently runs the advocacy group Americans Against Anti-Semitism, alleged that he was blocked after criticizing the lawmaker for saying the government was running “concentration camps” on the border. Hikind said in his complaint that he was blocked “purely because of his speech in support of Jewish values and Israel.”

Ocasio-Cortez, whose Twitter account has 5.3 million followers, stirred controversy this summer by referring to detention centers as concentration camps. Some critics accused her of minimizing the Holocaust, but other people said her use of the term was historically accurate.

Hikind contends in his lawsuit, currently pending in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, that Ocasio-Cortez can't lawfully block people from her account due to their viewpoints any more than Trump can.

Last month, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a trial judge's ruling that Trump violated the First Amendment by blocking critics on Twitter.

Several other judges throughout the country have ruled that politicians violate the constitution by blocking critics on social media. Earlier this year, for instance, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals said the chair of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, Phyllis Randall, violated a constituent's rights by briefly banning him on Facebook. In that matter, the constituent was banned for around 12 hours after he made a post on Randall's Facebook page about alleged corruption and conflicts of interest at the local school board, according to court documents.

Ocasio-Cortez's lawyers argued in a letter to U.S. District Judge Frederic Block that the @AOC account is “personal,” as opposed to official. But as the Knight Institute points out, federal judges have rejected similar arguments put forward by other politicians, including Trump.

“You use the account as an extension of your office -- to share information about congressional hearings, to explain policy proposals, to advocate legislation, and to solicit public comment about issues relating to government,” the group writes. “Multiple courts have held that public officials’ social media accounts constitute public forums when they are used in the way that you use the @AOC account, and they have made clear that public officials violate the First Amendment when they block users from these forums on the basis of viewpoint.”

Ocasio-Cortez's attorneys have also denied that Hikind was blocked “because of the content of that speech.” The attorneys have not yet provided an alternative explanation for the block.

The judge is scheduled to hold a conference in the matter on September 5.

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