A federal court judge ruled Wednesday that President Donald Trump cannot block Twitter followers from his official “@Potus” account, without violating his followers’ First Amendment rights.
In a sweeping, 75-page opinion, Judge Naomi Buchwald noted that Trump’s blocking habits amount to “viewpoint discrimination” and that, because Twitter is a public forum and Trump’s Twitter account his held by the government, Trump must leave open the ability for his followers to reply, re-Tweet, and mention him.
“No government official — including the President — is above the law,” Buchwald wrote.
According to Buchwald’s decision, she finds that Twitter is a “public forum,” and when government officials use Twitter, the social network effectively becomes a “government forum.” Communicating with a public official in such an “interactive space,” Buchwald found, is a First Amendment right, even if that public official doesn’t exercise complete control over the forum (or even have a hand in making decisions with regard to the forum’s content).
That means, at the most basic level, that Trump cannot block those who tweet at him, even if — actually, especially if — those people are his critics. And, Buchwald says, merely noting that Trump’s tweets are available to blocked users if they simply log out of Twitter isn’t enough, because the Constitution demands the government receive Twitter criticism directly — the ability to reply and re-tweet is part of the deal between a government official and a Twitter user.
When Trump blocks people, Buchwald continues, he’s effectively exerting government control over a public forum, and both the law and the Constitution prohibit government control over a public forum outside of very narrowly tailored time, place, and manner restrictions. Trump certainly cannot simply block his critics without engaging in blatant viewpoint discrimination, Buchwald argues.
The decision is good news for Trump’s Twitter trolls, like author Stephen King, who were part of the federal lawsuit that ultimately produced this decision. They, for now, have the right to angrily re-tweet and mention the president to their hearts’ content (at least until the president’s legal team applies for an injunction pending an appeal).
Democrats shouldn’t start the party just yet, either. The decision applies to government officials across the board, so now serial blockers like Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) will have to release their respective strangleholds.
The decision also stopped short of declaring Twitter an open public forum, a designation which might have produced problems for the social network. Had Twitter been declared public, it would no longer be able to police content on the site. But sadly for Twitter’s blocked accounts, they will have to sue on their own.