A federal judge has dismissed former President Donald Trump's claim that Twitter violated the First Amendment by banning him from the platform.
In a ruling issued late Friday, U.S. District Judge James Donato in the Northern District of California said that only the government, and not private companies such as Twitter, are bound by the First Amendment's prohibition on censorship.
The decision grew out of a lawsuit brought by Trump in July 2021, when he alleged that Twitter violated his right to free speech by shutting down his account after the January 6 riot on Capitol Hill.
The ex-president alleged that Twitter was a “state actor” -- meaning equivalent to the government -- and that the company's decision to ban him amounted to unconstitutional censorship. Several other people and organizations joined the complaint, which was filed as a potential class-action.
Donato rejected that theory, writing that even if the complaint's allegations were true, they wouldn't show that Twitter was acting in concert with the government.
“Plaintiffs’ only hope of stating a First Amendment claim is to plausibly allege that Twitter was in effect operating as the government,” Donato wrote. “This is not an easy claim to make, for good reasons. Private entities are presumed to act as such.”
Trump's lawyers specifically attempted to prove governmental coercion by pointing to comments by federal officials, including members of Congress. For instance, the complaint included allegations that, when still a senator, Vice President Kamala Harris called on Twitter to suspend Trump's account, and that Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-California) warned that tech companies' legal protections could be in jeopardy, unless they acted with more “responsibility.”
But Donato said those sorts of remarks weren't enough to establish coercion.
“The comments of a handful of elected officials are a far cry from a 'rule of decision for which the State is responsible,'” Dontao wrote. “Legislators are perfectly free to express opinions without being deemed the official voice of 'the State.' Government in our republic of elected representatives would be impossible otherwise.”
While Donato dismissed the complaint, his ruling allows Trump to amend the claims and bring them again by May 27.
Trump brought similar lawsuits against YouTube and Facebook -- which also banned him last year. Those cases are still pending.