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Justice Dept. Asks SCOTUS to Let Trump Block Twitter Critics

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 16: A tweet is displayed at The Daily Show-produced 'Donald J. Trump Presidential Twitter Library,' June 16, 2017 in New York City. The parody library showcases President Trump's tweets through the years. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
By Laura Temme, Esq. on August 26, 2020 12:05 PM

We've all become accustomed to the president using his personal twitter account to communicate his position on current issues or call out those who disagree with him. His tweets reach more than 85 million followers, plus millions of others through retweets and shares on other social media platforms.

The rest of us can easily block bothersome people on social media. But if the president is using this platform in his official capacity, does he have the right to block Twitter users he doesn't like?

No Tweets for You

In 2018, Trump lost a case filed on behalf of Twitter users he had previously blocked from seeing his personal account. In 2019, a federal court of appeals upheld that ruling. In March 2020, Trump lost once again when the full Second Circuit affirmed.

Circuit Judge Barrington Parker wrote that a government official cannot exclude critics from an "otherwise-open online dialogue." But, Trump hasn't entirely held up his end of the deal to unblock access to his @RealDonaldTrump account.

In July, Columbia University's Knight First Amendment Institute filed a new lawsuit in Manhattan's federal court on behalf of five Twitter users who remain blocked from viewing Trump's account.

DOJ Says Unblocking Will Deter Future Presidents

The Justice Department says forcing Trump to unblock users would deter future presidents from using social media to reach the public. Furthermore, they contend that there is a "critical distinction" between the president's occasional official statements on Twitter and his personal decision to block respondents from viewing his account.

However, the Knight First Amendment Institute argues (and so far the courts agree) that blocking individuals on Twitter due to their viewpoint violates the Constitution. Although President Trump uses his personal account rather than an official POTUS account, he makes official proclamations on Twitter often enough for it to be considered a public forum.

Now, the Justice Department wants the Supreme Court to weigh in. Will this case be on the docket this fall? We'll give it a follow and let you know.

Related Resources:

After Executive Order Condemning Online Censorship, Should Social Media Companies Fear Liability? (FindLaw's Technologist)

What Legal Responsibilities Do Online Platforms Have to Curb Violent Rhetoric? (FindLaw's Second Circuit)

Can Trump Postpone the General Election? (FindLaw's Law & Daily Life)

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