Twitter users blocked from following President Trump went to court Tuesday, charging the action violates their First Amendment rights.
Lawyers for seven Twitter users charged in federal court papers that by seeking to "suppress dissent," Trump's action was unconstitutional.
The president has more than 33 million followers on his @realDonaldTrump Twitter feed and has tweeted more than 35,000 times since first starting the account in 2009. The account has become a method for Americans to keep up with public policy issues, as well as monitor Trump's mood swings over media coverage of his administration.
The lawsuit, filed in the Southern District of New York by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, comes a month after the group sent a letter to the president and several aides, asking that two of their clients be unblocked. The group said the White House did not respond.
"President Trump’s Twitter account has become an important source of news and information about the government and an important forum for speech by, to, or about the president,” Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight Institute, said. “The First Amendment applies to this digital forum in the same way it applies to town halls and open school board meetings. The White House acts unlawfully when it excludes people from this forum simply because they’ve disagreed with the president.”
The group sued on behalf of seven Twitter users, including a police officer, sociology professor, surgery resident and songwriter. Two of them first complained about being blocked in early June.
Holly Figueroa of Washington state (@AynRandPaulRyan), whose Twitter account identifies her as a March for Truth organizer, said she was blocked on May 23 after posting a GIF of Pope Francis looking and frowning at Trump captioned "this is pretty much how the whole world sees you."
Joseph Papp of Pennsylvania (@joeabike), an "anti-doping advocate" and cyclist, said he was blocked after posting "Why didn't you attend your own PittsburghNotParis rally in DC, Sir? #fakeleader" in response to the president's June 3 tweet of his weekly address.
The others included in the lawsuit Tuesday are Rebecca Buckwalter of Washington, D.C.; Philip Cohen of Silver Spring, Md.; Eugene Gu of Nashville, Tenn.; Brandon Neely of Tomball, Texas; and Nicholas Pappas of New York City.
Buckwalter's experience was typical. A fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress, she responded to a Trump tweet on June 6 that read, "Sorry folks, but if I would have relied on the Fake News of CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS washpost or
nytimes, I would have had ZERO chance winning WH.” Buckwalter replied: “To be fair you didn’t win the WH: Russia won it for you.”
In the lawsuit, the Knight Institute says that even the president’s
advisers have called Trump's 140-character missives “official statements.” As such, it says the Twitter feed is a "public forum" from which people cannot be excluded based on their views, nor can other users be denied their right to hear critical voices.
“The White House is transforming a public forum into an echo chamber,” said Katie Fallow, a senior staff attorney at the Knight Institute. “Its actions violate the rights of the people who’ve been blocked and the rights of those who haven’t been blocked but who now participate in a forum that’s being sanitized of dissent.”
Those blocked from a Twitter account cannot read tweets, respond to them directly, or contribute to the comment threads.
The Supreme Court ruled last month that social networking websites have become such an important source of information that even sex offenders be allowed to access social media sites such as Facebook, Snapchat and LinkedIn. During oral arguments, Justice Elena Kagan cited Trump's tweets as an example of newsworthy information.