Knight First Amendment Institute v. Trump
|Knight First Amendment Institute v. Trump|
|United States District Court for the Southern District of New York|
|Full case name||Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University; Rebecca Buckwalter; Philip Cohen; Holly Figueroa; Eugene Gu; Brandon Neely; Joseph Papp; and Nicholas Pappas, Plaintiffs, v. Donald J. Trump, President of the United States; Sean M. Spicer, White House Press Secretary; and Daniel Scavino, White House Director of Social Media and Assistant to the President, Defendants.|
|Date decided||May 23, 2018|
Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University|
Knight First Amendment Institute v. Trump (1:17-cv-05205) is a lawsuit filed on July 11, 2017 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York and decided May 23, 2018. The plaintiffs are a group of Twitter users blocked by U.S. President Donald Trump's personal @realDonaldTrump account. They allege that this account constitutes a public forum, and that blocking access to it is a violation of their First Amendment rights. The lawsuit also names as defendants White House press secretary Sean Spicer and social media director Dan Scavino.
The plaintiffs are represented by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, which itself is a plaintiff in the case. Though the Knight Institute's Twitter account has not been blocked by Trump, the lawsuit argues that they and other followers of the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account "are now deprived of their right to read the speech of the dissenters who have been blocked". The complaint also argues that posts to the @realDonaldTrump account are "official statements".
On Twitter, blocked users cannot see or respond to tweets from the account that blocked them. As of July 2017, the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account had 33.7 million followers. Trump's tweets are often retweeted tens of thousands of times, and Trump frequently uses Twitter to make policy statements. In June 2017, Spicer stated that Trump's tweets are considered "official statements by the president of the United States". In July 2017, Trump tweeted that his use of social media is "MODERN DAY PRESIDENTIAL". Another lawsuit, CREW and National Security Archive v. Trump and EOP was filed in the District of Columbia, alleging violations of the Presidential Records Act for deleting tweets.
A month prior to filing this lawsuit, the Knight Institute had sent a letter to Trump on behalf of two of the blocked Twitter users, asking that they and other blocked users have their accounts unblocked by Trump. The letter argued that Trump's personal Twitter account is a public forum, and that it is therefore unconstitutional to exclude dissenting views. The letter was copied to Spicer, Scavino, and White House counsel Don McGahn. The Trump administration has not responded to the letter.
Analysis and criticism
In response to critics who question whether Twitter should be considered a public forum, Knight Institute senior attorney Katie Fallow cited a June 19, 2017 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Packingham v. North Carolina, in which Justice Anthony Kennedy described social media as "the modern public square" and as one of the most important places for the exchange of views. The ruling, which was unanimous, struck down a North Carolina law that prohibited registered sex offenders from accessing social media sites.
On May 23, 2018, Buchwald issued a declaratory judgment, ruling that Trump blocking people on Twitter is unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds. The court ruled that the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account is "a presidential account as opposed to a personal account", and blocking people from it violates their rights to participate in a "designated public forum". Buchwald introduced the decision by writing:
This case requires us to consider whether a public official may, consistent with the First Amendment, “block” a person from his Twitter account in response to the political views that person has expressed, and whether the analysis differs because that public official is the President of the United States. The answer to both questions is no.
Recently, the Knight First Amendment Institute asked Facebook to be allowed to set up fake accounts.
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- Knight First Amendment Institute (July 11, 2017). "COMPLAINT FOR DECLARATORY AND INJUNCTIVE RELIEF" (PDF). Retrieved July 12, 2017.
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- Plaintiff reply
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- Wolfson, Sam (May 23, 2018). "Donald Trump cannot block anyone on Twitter, court rules". The Guardian. Retrieved May 24, 2018.
- Buchwald decision
- Ingram, Mathew (August 7, 2018). "Should journalists and researchers get a special exemption from Facebook's rules?". Columbia Journalism Review. Archived from the original on August 8, 2018. Retrieved August 11, 2018.