The White House Tuesday pressed its argument that President Trump doesn't violate the First Amendment by blocking critics on Twitter because his account is “personal,” as opposed to official.
“President Trump ... has used his own property -- his personal Twitter account -- to discuss governmental business. But he did not thereby transform the entire @realDonaldTrump account, and every one of its actions, into the work of the United States government,” the Department of Justice writes in a new Supreme Court filing.
The government also argues that lower-court decisions against Trump in the matter infringed his right, and the right of other officials, "to retain the control over their personal social-media accounts that all other individuals possess."
The Justice Department makes the arguments in hopes of persuading the Supreme Court to intervene in a battle over the president's use of social media.
The fight dates to 2017, when the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University sued Trump on behalf of seven critics who were blocked by him on Twitter. The organization contended 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 agreed with the organization and ruled that Trump acted unconstitutionally.
The Justice Department then appealed to the 2nd Circuit, arguing that Trump acts in a personal capacity when he blocks people on Twitter.
That distinction is important because 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.
The White House is now trying to convince the Supreme Court to intervene.
The lower-court decision “muddies the distinction between the personal actions of government officials and the actions of the state,” the Justice Department writes.
The administration adds that the decision “exposes state and federal employees to constitutional responsibility when using their own personal property to speak about their jobs to persons of their own choosing.”