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Trump appeals ruling to unblock Twitter critics

The move escalates a fight over the First Amendment’s reach. After last month’s ruling by a Manhattan federal court, the president opened his Twitter posts to the seven users who sued.

President Donald Trump at the U.S. Coast Guard

President Donald Trump at the U.S. Coast Guard headquarters in Washington on Friday. Photo Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Saul Loeb

President Donald Trump has appealed a Manhattan federal court ruling that he couldn’t constitutionally block critics from his Twitter account based on their political viewpoints, escalating a court fight over the reach of the First Amendment.

The appeal to the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday came as Trump complied with last month’s ruling by unblocking seven Twitter users who had sued, their lawyers said, but there was no indication he would unblock others who weren’t part of the lawsuit.

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, which brought the lawsuit, said it was pleased by the limited unblocking, but disappointed by the appeal and the lack of broader action to open up the president’s account to others closed off.

“We are concerned by reports that individuals other than our clients are still blocked from the account,” said Katie Fallow, an attorney at the institute. “It should go without saying that those individuals have the same rights as our clients. If they have been blocked on the basis of their viewpoints, the White House should unblock them immediately.”

Trump’s @realDonaldTrump account, which he uses for official announcements, attacks on foes and a running commentary, has more than 52 million followers. The White House hasn’t revealed how many people are “blocked” — keeping them from directly viewing or commenting on his tweets.

In a May ruling, U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald issued a declaratory judgment finding that the president’s twitter account was a “public forum” and he couldn’t discriminate by shutting out critics.

She didn’t issue an injunction, saying she assumed the White House would comply voluntarily with her legal conclusions. But the suit only covered seven named plaintiffs, and was not filed as a class action on behalf of all blocked users.

The Justice Department didn’t respond directly to a question about whether the unblocking would eventually extend to everyone. “We are appealing and the plaintiffs have been unblocked,” said representative Kerri Kupec. “We have no further comment beyond what we argued in our brief below.”

Lawyers involved in the case said that since it wasn’t a class action, it would be difficult to argue for an order requiring a broader unblocking without a new lawsuit. The ruling technically applied only to “viewpoint” discrimination, so the White House could also potentially develop rules barring some people based on factors such as vulgarity.

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