Knight First Amendment Institute v. Trump
Knight First Amendment Institute v. Trump, No. 1:17-cv-05205 (S.D.N.Y.) 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.
|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|
|Plaintiff(s)||Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University|
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. Knight First Amendment Institute won the 2020 Webby People’s Voice Award for Law in the category Web.
Analysis and criticismEdit
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 granted in part and denied in part the plaintiff's motion for summary 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.
In August 2018, the government filed an appeal brief with the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In October 2018, the plaintiffs filed their appeal brief in response. Oral argument was heard March 26, 2019. The Second Circuit issued its decision on July 9, 2019, upholding Judge Buchwald's opinion. The Second Circuit determined that Trump used his Twitter to conduct official government business, and therefore, he cannot block Americans from the account on the basis of their political views. The government was denied an en banc review by the full Second Circuit in March 2020.
On the day of the Second Circuit's decision, former New York state representative Dov Hikind and candidate Joey Salads separately sued U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez within New York state federal district courts for blocking them from her Twitter account, based on the ruling from the Second Circuit.
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- Neumeister, Larry (July 11, 2017). "Trump sued for blocking some of his critics on Twitter". The Washington Post. Associated Press. Retrieved July 11, 2017.
- Knight First Amendment Institute (July 11, 2017). "Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief". Retrieved October 25, 2018.
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- Kastrenakes, Jacob (May 20, 2020). "Here are all the winners of the 2020 Webby Awards". The Verge. Retrieved May 22, 2020.
- Plaintiff reply Knightcolumbia.org
- Allsop, Jon (March 9, 2018). "In downtown New York, a First Amendment fight over Trump's tweets". Columbia Journalism Review. Archived from the original on March 9, 2018. Retrieved August 12, 2018.
- Wolfson, Sam (May 23, 2018). "Donald Trump cannot block anyone on Twitter, court rules". The Guardian. Retrieved May 24, 2018.
- Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University v. Trump, No. 1:17-cv-05205 (S.D.N.Y. May 23, 2018).
- "Government appeal" (PDF). Knightcolumbia.org. August 3, 2018. Retrieved September 30, 2019.
- Appeal brief
- Appeal decision
- Savage, Charlie (July 9, 2019). "Trump Can't Block Critics From His Twitter Account, Appeals Court Rules". The New York Times. Retrieved July 9, 2019.
- "Trump violated US constitution by blocking critics on Twitter, federal court rules". The Guardian. July 9, 2019. Retrieved July 9, 2019.
- Spangler, Todd (March 23, 2020). "Donald Trump Violated First Amendment by Blocking Critics on Twitter, Appeals Court Affirms". Variety. Retrieved March 23, 2020.
- Bowden, John (July 10, 2019). "Ocasio-Cortez sued over Twitter blocks". The Hill. Retrieved July 10, 2019.
- Ingber, Sasha (July 12, 2019). "Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Is Sued Over Blocking Twitter Followers". NPR. Retrieved July 12, 2019.