Trump Cannot Block People On Twitter, Judge Rules

Jacquelyn MartinAP Images

Donald Trump cannot block people on Twitter, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, saying that doing so amounts to restricting the users’ rights to free speech, Yahoo News is reporting.

Trump has used Twitter, both his personal account (@realdonaldtrump) and his official presidential account (@POTUS) to advance his agenda, announce policy decisions, belittle his critics, or otherwise say what’s on his mind, since the first day of his presidency. Like all Twitter users, Trump has been able to “block” users he doesn’t like, effectively stopping them from responding to his tweets.

Not anymore, says U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald. She says that because Twitter essentially acts as a “public forum” (the 21st-century equivalent of a town hall meeting), by blocking Twitter users, Trump is shutting down their free speech. And since Trump is the president, he acts as a government official, meaning that shutting down users’ free speech is a violation of the First Amendment.

“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.”

Fortunately for Trump, he has another, perfectly legal option: he can “mute” users. That means that those users are free to share their views with the Twitter universe at-large, but Trump won’t have to see those tweets.

The ruling doesn’t mean that Trump will have to un-block all of the Twitter users he’s blocked. Trump had argued that a court doesn’t have the power to issue a direct order to a sitting president. Buchwald declined to wade into a “legal thicket” over the matter, saying she assumes that Trump or his social media director Dan Scavino, would go ahead an do it in the absence of an order.

It’s not clear, as of this writing, how many Twitter users Trump has blocked – it could be a few dozen, it could be thousands. Three users – Philip Cohen, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland; Holly Figueroa, a political organizer and songwriter in Washington state; and Brandon Neely, a Texas police officer – were named in the suit as having been blocked by Trump. Stephen King, Anne Rice, Rosie O’Donnell, Chrissy Teigen, and the military veterans political action committee VoteVets.org have all said that they’ve been blocked on Twitter by Trump, but were not part of the lawsuit.

Neither the White House nor Twitter (Twitter was not named in the lawsuit) has commented on the case, as of this writing.