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Trump can't block users on Twitter, federal judge rules

A federal judge in New York ruled Wednesday that President Trump is in violation of the Constitution when he blocks u...

Posted: May 24, 2018 5:19 AM
Updated: May 24, 2018 5:19 AM

A federal judge in New York ruled Wednesday that President Trump is in violation of the Constitution when he blocks users on Twitter.

It's a remarkable development in one of the more peculiar debates of Trump's presidency, and a victory for the First Amendment advocates who brought the lawsuit last year.

In her ruling, Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald wrote that "no government official -- including the President -- is above the law, and all government officials are presumed to follow the law as has been declared."

"We hold that portions of the @realDonaldTrump account -- the 'interactive space' where Twitter users may directly engage with the content of the President's tweets -- are properly analyzed under the "'public forum' doctrines set forth by the Supreme Court, that such space is a designated public forum, and that the blocking of the plaintiffs based on their political speech constitutes viewpoint discrimination that violates the First Amendment," Buchwald wrote.

But Buchwald eschewed a decision on providing plaintiffs with relief, saying that her "declaratory judgment should be sufficient."

The Knight Institute, which filed the suit on behalf of several individuals who have been blocked by Trump, applauded the decision.

"We're pleased with the court's decision, which reflects a careful application of core First Amendment principles to government censorship on a new communications platform," said Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight Institute. "The President's practice of blocking critics on Twitter is pernicious and unconstitutional, and we hope this ruling will bring it to an end."

Katie Fallow, a staff attorney at Knight who represented the plaintiffs, said the ruling "should guide all of the public officials who are communicating with their constituents through social media."

The Justice Department defended Trump's Twitter activity, contending that muting is within the president's "associational freedoms." He may be president, the DOJ argued, but Trump still maintains a right to decide who he spends time with on the social media platform.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders and former White House communications director Hope Hicks, both of whom were named in the suit, were dismissed as defendants.

A Justice Department spokeswoman said "We respectfully disagree with the court's decision and are considering our next steps."

White House spokespeople did not respond to a request for comment regarding the decision and whether the President would now unblock the Twitter users.

The ruling arrives as something of a surprise, given what transpired at a hearing in March. At that time, Judge Buchwald urged both parties to find a resolution outside of court. Her idea for a settlement: perhaps Trump could mute, rather than block, his critics.

"Why are we here?" Buchwald asked at the hearing. "Don't we have a solution that serves the interests of the plaintiffs, serves the interests of the president?"

"It might be better to resolve it in a practical fashion," she added.

After the March hearing, Fallow indicated that she was amenable to Buchwald's proposal.

"As to the muting, I think that is an option," Fallow said at the time. "That is much less restrictive and burdensome on the plaintiffs' speech rights."

But some of the plaintiffs were less enthused by the idea. Outside the Manhattan courthouse in March, Philip Cohen, a sociology professor who was blocked by the president in June of last year, said that muting wouldn't resolve the underlying problem.

"I don't know if muting is really the solution, but if all they really care about, which they say, is that he just doesn't want to hear from us, then he would mute, but obviously he wants to suppress our speech," he said.

--Hadas Gold contributed to this report.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 265146

Reported Deaths: 5777
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17807191
Hinds16967332
Harrison14298204
Rankin11280221
Jackson10976190
Lee9088145
Madison8619169
Jones6782118
Forrest6236124
Lauderdale6128192
Lowndes5564120
Lafayette5229101
Lamar507465
Washington4951125
Bolivar4149109
Oktibbeha409482
Panola388281
Pontotoc378560
Warren3698103
Monroe3693110
Marshall358570
Union357764
Pearl River3508106
Neshoba3499154
Leflore3122109
Lincoln307688
Hancock296362
Sunflower293075
Tate281162
Alcorn273554
Pike271081
Itawamba270063
Scott260849
Yazoo257156
Prentiss254554
Coahoma251555
Copiah250749
Tippah250150
Simpson243872
Leake238467
Marion225973
Grenada224272
Covington222473
Adams215371
Wayne215034
Winston207771
George204839
Newton200046
Attala197464
Tishomingo195661
Chickasaw189644
Jasper182538
Holmes172268
Clay167537
Tallahatchie157535
Stone152925
Clarke148662
Calhoun141822
Smith130726
Yalobusha123835
Walthall115037
Greene114529
Noxubee114126
Montgomery112736
Lawrence107617
Carroll106922
Perry105331
Amite102426
Webster97424
Claiborne89725
Tunica89321
Jefferson Davis88930
Benton86523
Humphreys84824
Kemper81020
Quitman7149
Franklin70717
Choctaw63813
Wilkinson59925
Jefferson57121
Sharkey45717
Issaquena1606
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 443009

Reported Deaths: 6662
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson649101007
Mobile31746574
Madison28413217
Tuscaloosa21566275
Montgomery20088332
Shelby19452132
Baldwin17333189
Lee13261107
Morgan12678142
Etowah12141181
Calhoun11555206
Marshall10487123
Houston9031164
Limestone838181
Cullman8296124
Elmore8243110
Lauderdale7946107
DeKalb7900107
St. Clair7876130
Talladega6523112
Walker6050183
Jackson603245
Colbert558194
Blount548586
Autauga540762
Coffee466964
Dale412785
Franklin377550
Russell358415
Chilton346873
Covington340880
Escambia339244
Tallapoosa3163109
Dallas313696
Chambers305470
Clarke303336
Pike265231
Lawrence255855
Marion254661
Winston234742
Bibb222948
Geneva213047
Marengo210531
Pickens200431
Hale186144
Barbour183438
Fayette178829
Butler174860
Cherokee166031
Henry160025
Monroe152621
Randolph146636
Washington142727
Clay130746
Crenshaw124845
Macon122837
Cleburne122125
Lamar120622
Lowndes116836
Wilcox108322
Bullock104628
Perry100518
Conecuh98022
Sumter90627
Greene77923
Coosa64018
Choctaw52124
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