Supreme Court Should Stay Out Of Fight Over Trump's Twitter Blocks, Knight Institute Says

The Supreme Court shouldn't disturb a lower court's ruling that President Trump violates the First Amendment by blocking critics on Twitter, the Knight Institute at Columbia University argues.

Trump's Twitter account “is akin to a digital town hall, with the President speaking from the podium at the front of the room, and citizens responding to him and engaging with one another about his statements,” the Knight Institute writes in papers filed Monday with the Supreme Court.

“This Court has long held that government officials who eject individuals based on viewpoint from these kinds of open public meetings violate the First Amendment, and that is exactly what the President did here,” the free speech organization adds.

The Knight Institute makes the argument in response to the Department of Justice's request for Supreme Court intervention in a battle over Trump's use of social media.

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The dispute dates to 2017, when the Knight Institute sued Trump on behalf of seven critics who were blocked by him on Twitter.

The organization said the blocks violated users' free speech rights, arguing that Trump's Twitter account was a public forum -- comparable to city streets, parks and other spaces where the government can't censor people based on their views.

U.S. District Court Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald in New York sided against Trump, ruling that he unconstitutionally blocked social media users based on their viewpoints.

The Justice Department then appealed to the 2nd Circuit, where the White House argued Trump acts in a “personal” capacity, as opposed to an official one, when he blocks people on Twitter. The First Amendment only prohibits the government -- as opposed to private individuals -- from censoring criticism.

Last year, a three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit rejected the White House's position, ruling that evidence of the account's official nature was “overwhelming.”

The panel judges noted that since becoming president, Trump has used the account almost daily to communicate about his administration -- including to announce new policies and cabinet-level staff changes.

Last month, the White House pressed the Supreme Court to take the case and rule that the account, created by Trump in 2009, is private. The Justice Department also argues that the blocks have little impact on critics, arguing that they can still access Trump's tweets by logging out.

The Knight Institute counters Monday that the key fact isn't when Trump established the account, but that he currently uses it for official business.

The Justice Department also said in its petition that Trump has the same right to block critics on Twitter as to exclude them from Trump Tower.

The Knight Institute responds that public officials “may be bound by constitutional limits” when using private property for official duties.

The group writes: “If President Kennedy or President Bush had deliberately opened his private property to the general public for the purpose of hosting an open public meeting about matters relating to government, he would have violated the First Amendment if he had ejected individuals from the meeting based on viewpoint.”

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