“The blocking of individual plaintiffs has the discrete impact of preventing them from interacting directly with the President’s tweets, thereby restricting a real, albeit narrow, slice of speech. No more is needed to violate the Constitution,” the court said.
A district court in the United States of America has held that blocking of Twitter users from US President Donald Trump’s (@realDonaldTrump) Twitter account because of their expressed political views, is unconstitutional as it violates the First Amendment.
Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald, in her concluding part of the judgment, said: “We hold that the speech in which they seek to engage is protected by the First Amendment and that the President and Scavino exert governmental control over certain aspects of the @realDonaldTrump account, including the interactive space of the tweets sent from the account. That interactive space is susceptible to analysis under the Supreme Court's forum doctrines and is properly characterized as a designated public forum. The viewpoint-based exclusion of the individual plaintiffs from that designated public forum 1s proscribed by the First Amendment and cannot be justified by the President's personal First Amendment interests.”
This ruling came on a petition seeking both declaratory relief and injunctive relief filed by certain individuals viz. Rebecca Buckwalter, Philip Cohen, Holly Figueroa, Eugene Gu, Brandon Neely, Joseph Papp, and Nicholas Pappas, who have been blocked by the President’s Twitter account. An organization, named the Knight Institute, also joined the case as plaintiffs contending that though it is not blocked by the President, it desires to read comments that otherwise would have been posted by the blocked Plaintiffs, and by other accounts blocked by @realDonaldTrump, in direct reply to @realDonaldTrump tweets.
In a detailed judgment, the judge concluded that the control that the President and Scavino exercise over the Twitter account and certain of its features is governmental in nature. Elaborately discussing the Twitter features like muting, retweeting, replying and blocking, the judge said the elimination of the blocked user’s ability to reply directly is more than the blocking user merely ignoring the blocked user; it is the blocking user limiting the blocked user’s right to speak in a discrete, measurable way.
“While we must recognize, and are sensitive to, the President’s personal First Amendment rights, he cannot exercise those rights in a way that infringes the corresponding First Amendment rights of those who have criticized him,” the court said.
It further observed: “The blocking of individual plaintiffs has the discrete impact of preventing them from interacting directly with the President’s tweets, thereby restricting a real, albeit narrow, slice of speech. No more is needed to violate the Constitution.”
The court, however, declined injunctory relief observing thus: “We conclude that injunctive relief may be awarded in this case-- at minimum, against Scavino, we decline to do so at this time because declaratory relief is likely to achieve the same purpose...Because no government official is above the law and because all government officials are presumed to follow the law once the judiciary has said what the law is, we must assume that the President and Scavino will remedy the blocking we have held to be unconstitutional.”