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Federal court: Trump can't block critics from Twitter account

Upheld was a lower court ruling that the

Upheld was a lower court ruling that the president can't exercise viewpoint discrimination among his more than 60 million followers. Photo Credit: AP / Susan Walsh

A federal appeals court in Manhattan held Tuesday that President Donald Trump can’t block Twitter users whose views he finds objectionable from interacting with his tweets.

“The First Amendment does not permit a public official who utilizes a social media account for all manner of official purposes to exclude persons from an otherwise open online dialogue because they expressed views with which the official disagrees,” said the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

The ruling upheld an earlier decision by Manhattan U.S. District Judge Naomi Buchwald that said Trump has used Twitter for official purposes, and can’t exercise viewpoint discrimination among his more than 60 million followers.

In its unanimous decision Tuesday, the Second Circuit three-judge panel said Trump was free to ignore comments and responses to his tweets, but could not shut off other users from interacting with one another in response to his declarations.

“Once the President has chosen a platform and opened up its interactive space to millions of users and participants, he may not selectively exclude those whose views he disagrees with,” the court said.

The judges also said shutting people out violated the spirit of the Constitution’s free-speech guarantee.

“The irony in all of this is that we write at a time in the history of this nation when the conduct of our government and its officials is subject to wide open, robust debate,” the judges said. “ … This debate, as uncomfortable and as unpleasant as it frequently may be, is nonetheless a good thing.”

“We remind the litigants and the public,” they added, “that if the First Amendment means anything, it means that the best response to disfavored speech on matters of public concern is more speech, not less.”

The ruling came in a suit filed in 2017 by Columbia University's Knight First Amendment Institute on behalf of several blocked users who claimed Trump was discriminating based on political viewpoints.

The plaintiffs included a woman who responded to a Trump tweet about winning the 2016 election by saying that "Russia won it for you," and others who criticized his stances on immigration and the effect his health care plans would have on black lung victims.

The institute, in a statement, praised the ruling.

“The decision will help ensure the integrity and vitality of digital spaces that are increasingly important to our democracy,” said executive director Jameel Jaffer.

While the court ruled that viewpoint-based blocking was unconstitutional, the case was not a class-action on behalf of all blocked users and no injunction was issued ordering the White House to unblock people.

The institute said that the president unblocked the individual plaintiffs and a number of others after Buchwald’s ruling last year, but they are aware of others who say they remain blocked, based on their viewpoints.

A spokesman for the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office declined to comment on the ruling, or on any plans to seek further review.

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