Judge says Trump can't block users on Twitter

Court rules that blocking political opponents from his account violates right to free speech

NEW YORK • A US judge in New York on Wednesday ruled that President Donald Trump may not legally block Twitter users from his account on the social media platform based on their political views.

Mr Trump has made his Twitter account an integral and controversial part of his presidency, using it to promote his agenda, announce policy and attack critics. He has blocked many critics from his account, which prevents them from directly responding to his tweets.

United States District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald in Manhattan ruled that comments on the President's account, and those of other government officials, were public forums, and that blocking Twitter users for their views violated their right to free speech under the First Amendment of the Constitution.

The US Department of Justice, which represents Mr Trump in the case, said: "We respectfully disagree with the court's decision and are considering our next steps."

Ms Buchwald's ruling was in response to a First Amendment lawsuit filed against Mr Trump in July by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and several Twitter users.

The individual plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Mr Philip Cohen, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland; Ms Holly Figueroa, described in the complaint as a political organiser and songwriter in Washington state; and Mr Brandon Neely, a Texas police officer.

Mr Cohen, who was blocked from Mr Trump's account last June after posting an image of the president with words "Corrupt Incompetent Authoritarian," said he was "delighted" with Wednesday's decision. "This increases my faith in the system a little," he said.

Novelists Stephen King and Anne Rice, comedian Rosie O'Donnell, model Chrissy Teigen, actress Marina Sirtis and the military veterans political action committee VoteVets.org are among the others who have said on Twitter that Mr Trump blocked them.

Ms Buchwald rejected the argument that Mr Trump's own First Amendment rights allowed him to block people with whom he did not wish to interact.

"While we must recognise, 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 criticised him," Ms Buchwald said.

She said Mr Trump could "mute" users, meaning he would not see their tweets while they could still respond to his, without violating their free speech rights.

Ms Buchwald stopped short of ordering Mr Trump to unblock users. Mr Trump had argued that the court did not have the power to issue a direct order against the president.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 25, 2018, with the headline 'Judge says Trump can't block users on Twitter'. Print Edition | Subscribe