“The President must not be allowed to banish views from public discourse simply because he finds them objectionable.”
If President Trump won’t delete his Twitter account, Americans should at least be able to send him critical messages through the platform.
That’s the argument in a letter sent by lawyers on behalf of individuals whose Twitter accounts have been “blocked” by Trump’s twitter account. A team from the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University agreed to represent the blocked users.
The letter asks the president to unblock the followers, saying the Constitution prohibits him from denying Americans the ability to openly criticize or mock him:
“This Twitter account operates as a ‘designated public forum’ for First Amendment purposes, and accordingly the viewpoint-based blocking of our clients is unconstitutional,” the letter said. “We ask that you unblock them and any others who have been blocked for similar reasons.”
The foundation’s letter specifically mentions Trump’s personal twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, which currently has 38.1 million followers. That account blocked two users cited in the letter, who posted critical tweets directed at Trump’s account. The president also inherited the @potus account from President Obama.
The foundation acknowledges the obvious: the Constitution was written before Twitter, social media, or the Internet itself were even a spark in someone’s imagination. But they argue Trump’s tweets rise to the level of statements made by a public official, and by blocking users, Trump is preventing citizens from having access to, or interacting with, those public statements. That’s because when a user is blocked on Twitter, they can no longer see a user’s account, or comment on tweets the user has made. The block function was originally put in place by Twitter’s administrator’s to help protect users who are being harassed. But this is the first time someone has flipped the script legally, arguing that the privacy measure is actually a restriction on free speech.
“This is a context in which the Constitution precludes the President from making up his own rules,” said Knight Institute executive director said Jameel Jaffer in a statement. “Though the architects of the Constitution surely didn’t contemplate presidential Twitter accounts, they understood that the President must not be allowed to banish views from public discourse simply because he finds them objectionable. Having opened this forum to all comers, the President can’t exclude people from it merely because he dislikes what they’re saying.”