PEN America, a New York-based group of writers and journalists, sued President Donald Trump in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday for violating the First Amendment by repeatedly threatening and retaliating against those who cover his administration critically.
“President Trump has First Amendment rights and is free to criticize the press vehemently, but he is not free to use the power and authority of the United States government to punish and stifle it,” the lawsuit said.
Citing allegedly retaliatory episodes, including pressure to raise postal rates on online retailer Amazon, whose top shareholder, Jeff Bezos, also controls The Washington Post, and opposition to the merger of AT&T with CNN owner Time Warner, the lawsuit says Trump’s actions improperly chill reporting.
The lawsuit seeks a court order that bars the president from “directing any officer, employee, agency, or other agent or instrumentality of the United States government to take any action against any person or entity in retaliation for speech that the President or his Administration do not like.”
Although the lawsuit could face challenges based on lack of “standing” because PEN America has not itself faced threats or retaliation, the groups said its members include journalists for papers — like The Washington Post — that have been threatened, and all its members are harmed.
“Journalists write about the President and his Administration today with a reasonable recognition of a credible threat that Defendant Trump will use the levers of government power to punish them or their employers for critical speech,” the suit said. “The First Amendment protects the press from having to work under such conditions.”
It also cited Trump’s threats to take away White House credentials from some reporters and personal attacks on journalists such as Megyn Kelly.
The Justice Department declined to comment.