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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.

Confirmed Cases: 16769

Reported Deaths: 803
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds107426
Madison76728
Lauderdale75968
Neshoba72844
Jones70133
Scott66312
Forrest59539
DeSoto57510
Rankin4569
Leake45212
Holmes44330
Copiah3294
Jackson31415
Attala31118
Yazoo2964
Newton2884
Lincoln28031
Leflore27736
Oktibbeha27314
Harrison2697
Monroe26925
Wayne2623
Lamar2505
Lowndes2479
Pearl River21231
Pike20411
Adams20316
Washington1987
Warren19610
Lee1948
Noxubee1936
Covington1792
Bolivar16911
Jasper1674
Clarke15619
Smith15511
Kemper15511
Lafayette1544
Chickasaw14014
Coahoma1314
Clay1254
Winston1241
Carroll11911
Marion1169
Claiborne1155
Lawrence1071
Grenada1074
Simpson1040
Yalobusha1046
Sunflower923
Tate911
Hancock9012
Union897
Itawamba897
Marshall873
Wilkinson859
Panola843
Montgomery841
Webster844
Jefferson Davis823
Tippah7611
Calhoun674
Amite661
Walthall640
Humphreys637
Tunica583
Prentiss533
Perry513
Choctaw502
Pontotoc473
Jefferson421
Tishomingo360
Greene331
Stone320
Quitman320
Tallahatchie301
George292
Franklin292
Alcorn191
Benton140
Sharkey70
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 19073

Reported Deaths: 672
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Mobile2321118
Jefferson1901104
Montgomery185843
Tuscaloosa83616
Marshall7089
Franklin5858
Lee56234
Shelby52819
Tallapoosa43466
Butler42118
Walker3862
Elmore3749
Chambers36026
Madison3534
Unassigned3062
Morgan3021
Baldwin2939
Dallas2923
Lowndes26512
Etowah26312
DeKalb2573
Autauga2415
Coffee2391
Sumter2287
Houston2265
Bullock2176
Pike2120
Colbert1902
Hale1859
Russell1810
Barbour1771
Marengo1756
Lauderdale1722
Calhoun1673
Wilcox1577
Choctaw15310
Cullman1521
Clarke1492
St. Clair1351
Randolph1287
Dale1240
Marion12411
Pickens1205
Talladega1195
Limestone1080
Chilton1071
Greene954
Macon934
Winston910
Jackson833
Covington821
Henry822
Crenshaw783
Bibb761
Escambia753
Washington736
Blount631
Lawrence510
Monroe462
Geneva440
Perry430
Conecuh411
Coosa401
Cherokee383
Clay282
Lamar280
Fayette160
Cleburne151
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