President Donald Trump is violating individuals' constitutional rights by blocking them from his personal Twitter account, a federal court ruled on Wednesday, notching a victory for a group of seven users who alleged the president unlawfully barred them from viewing his feed.
U.S. District Court Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald ruled that Twitter serves as a "designated public forum" and is protected under the plaintiffs' First Amendment rights. Therefore, the judge added, their "exclusion" from the platform constitutes a breach of those rights.
In a ruling issued Wednesday in the Southern District of New York, Buchwald wrote that Trump and one of his aides, White House director of social media Dan Scavino, cannot point to the president's own First Amendment interests as justification for blocking the people — an argument his legal team had made.
“We’re pleased with the court’s decision, which reflects a careful application of core First Amendment principles to government censorship on a new communications platform,” said Jameel Jaffer, executive director of Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the group. “The president’s practice of blocking critics on Twitter is pernicious and unconstitutional, and we hope this ruling will bring it to an end.”
However, the judge found that the plaintiffs did not have standing to bring a case against White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, another defendant named in the suit, and also dismissed the case against Hope Hicks, the former White House communications director who was also named by the plaintiffs.
The Justice Department had argued that the lawsuit could radically reshape First Amendment law and threaten public officials' use of social media platforms.
DOJ further said that blocking the individuals on Twitter did not prevent them from reading the president's feed, and thus did not violate their free speech rights.
The Knight First Amendment Institute countered by arguing that blocked users could not readily engage in the discussions threads stemming from individual feeds.
DOJ did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Josh Gerstein contributed to this report.