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Federal Court Refuses to Reconsider Ruling That Said Trump Can’t Block You on Twitter


A federal appellate court on Monday declined to revisit a lower court’s ruling that prevents President Donald Trump from blocking people on Twitter. A majority of the judges on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals did not vote in favor of rehearing the case en banc (before the full court).

“Following disposition of this appeal on July 9, 2019, an active judge of the Court requested a poll on whether to rehear the case en banc,” the court wrote Monday. “A poll having been conducted and there being no majority favoring en banc review, rehearing en banc is hereby DENIED.”

Monday’s Second Circuit decision stems from a lawsuit filed by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, which argued that the manner in which President Trump and his aides used the official @realDonaldTrump Twitter account meant access to it was protected by the First Amendment.

“Defendants have promoted the President’s Twitter account as a key channel for official communication,” the lawsuit stated. “Defendants use the account to make formal announcements, defend the President’s official actions, report on meetings with foreign leaders, and promote the administration’s positions on health care, immigration, foreign affairs, and other matters. The President’s advisors have stated that tweets from @realDonaldTrump are “official statements,” and they have been treated as such by politicians, world leaders, the National Archive and Records Administration, and federal courts.”

The government had argued that Trump’s use of the account was merely personal.

“Here, the President does not operate his personal Twitter account by virtue of federal law, nor is blocking made possible because the President is clothed in Article II powers,” Trump’s attorneys wrote in an October 13 court filing. “His use of the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account is not a right conferred by the presidency. Twitter is a private platform, run by a private company, and it structures the interactions of its users on its own terms.”

A three-judge panel on Second Circuit ruled in June of 2019 that because Trump uses Twitter to conduct official government business, it is unconstitutional to block people from following his Twitter account.

According to the ruling from Circuit Judge Barrington Parker, public officials who use social media accounts for government purposes are prohibited by the First Amendment from blocking or excluding people from an “otherwise open online dialogue” due to the content of the comments.

“This debate, as uncomfortable and as unpleasant as it frequently may be, is nonetheless a good thing,” the judge wrote. “In resolving this appeal, we remind the litigants and the public that if the First Amendment means anything, it means that the best response to disfavored speech on matters of public concern is more speech, not less.”

The Knight First Amendment Institute praised the latest ruling. The group’s Executive Director Jameel Jaffer argued the case before the Second Circuit court. In a statement obtained by Law&Crime, Jaffer said the ruling represents an “important affirmation of core First Amendment principles as applied to new communications technology.”

Knight Institute Senior Staff Attorney Katie Fallow added that the case “should send a clear message to other public officials tempted to block critics from social media accounts used for official purposes.”

Read the Second Circuit’s Statement below:

Knight Foundation Trump 2020-03-23 by Law&Crime on Scribd

[image via NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.