The Supreme Court should leave in place a lower court's ruling that former President Trump violated the First Amendment by blocking critics on Twitter, a free speech advocacy group argues.
“The public interest in preventing impermissible viewpoint discrimination in government-operated social media accounts weighs heavily in favor of keeping the Second Circuit’s judgment in place,” the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University argues in papers filed Thursday.
The papers come in response to arguments filed by the Department of Justice on the last full day of Trump's presidency.
The government lawyers urged the Supreme Court to find both that the battle over the Twitter blocks is moot -- given that Trump is once again a private citizen -- and that a lower court ruling against him should be vacated.
The legal battle dates to 2017, when the Knight Institute sued Trump on behalf of seven critics who were blocked by him on Twitter.
Knight 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 places where the government can't censor people based on their opinions.
U.S. District Court Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald in New York sided with the Knight Institute and ruled that Trump acted unconstitutionally by blocking social media users based on their viewpoints.
The Justice Department appealed to the 2nd Circuit, arguing that Trump acts in a “personal” capacity, not an official one, when he blocks people on Twitter. The First Amendment prohibits the government -- but not private individuals -- from censoring criticism.
In 2019, the appellate court rejected the White House's position, ruling that evidence of the account's official nature was “overwhelming.”
The Justice Department then sought review by the Supreme Court. In its most recent papers, the Justice Department argued that the 2nd Circuit ruling was “deeply problematic.”
“Allowing the decision below to stand would be harmful, no longer to President Trump, but to the Presidency itself and to other governmental officials,” the Justice Department wrote.
The Knight Institute counters that the appellate court's ruling should be preserved because it “provides a sensible framework that is of value to the legal community and the public.”
The organization added that the 2nd Circuit's decision rests on a unique set of facts and doesn't “pre-ordain the result of any future lawsuit involving other public officials and other accounts that may be used in different ways.”
The Supreme Court has had the case on its conference calendar since November, but hasn't yet said whether it will review the ruling.
A decision could come as early as Monday.