Yesterday, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University sued Donald Trump for continuing to block people on Twitter, despite federal court rulings against the practice. I am one of those people and I am one of the individual plaintiffs.
Knight’s press release explains the situation better than I can:
The legal action was filed on behalf of five individuals who remain blocked two years after a federal court held—in an earlier case brought by the Knight Institute—that the president’s Twitter account is a public forum and the president violated the First Amendment by blocking people on the basis of viewpoint.
The Knight Institute filed a lawsuit in 2017 on behalf of seven individuals who had been blocked by President Trump and his staff from the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account. In May 2018, a federal judge ruled that the president’s practice of blocking critics from his Twitter account violates the First Amendment. In 2019, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit unanimously upheld the lower court’s ruling, and in March of this year, the court rejected a request by the Trump administration for a full-court review. The administration has until August 20 to seek review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The White House has unblocked the plaintiffs from the original suit and it has also, at the request of the Knight Institute, unblocked dozens of other individuals who were blocked on the basis of viewpoint. The White House has refused, however, to unblock two categories of individuals: those who cannot specify the tweet that provoked the president to block them, and those who were blocked before the president took office. Today’s suit focuses principally on those categories of Twitter users.
I am in both those categories.
In addition to the shocking pettiness and disregard for the law in refusing to unblock his own constituents on Twitter, Trump has wasted taxpayer dollars and federal resources in his frivolous engagement in the three past legal proceedings.
Those who have never been blocked by Trump sometimes tell me it’s a badge of honor. I agree but it’s also a barrier that goes beyond an inability to see his tweets. In fact, under certain circumstances, and if I use a browser where I am not logged into Twitter, I can read them. It is both cumbersome and annoying.
But if I learn of a particular tweet – a news push about Trump suggesting he wants to delay the election, e.g. – I need to go to a browser and scroll through his usually extensive feed to find the one reported on. I can’t know in advance if there are multiple tweets on the subject or not. Or, if someone I follow retweets a Trump tweet and adds a comment that makes me think Trump’s tweet is worth reading, I have to get the url of the retweet, then paste it into a separate browser. Or, if it is sent in a private email or Twitter group, I have to ask for a screen grab or url. Believe me, after the 30th or 50th time you go through these maneuvers, you will start to feel more outrage and less honor.
Worst of all, I am prevented from responding to Trump’s tweets, which announce policies that affect me, nor can I engage in any of the conversations with others that arise in the threads that result.
I will keep you abreast of new developments if and when they arise. You can read the complaint here and a record of all of Knight’s extensive efforts on our behalf here. I am deeply grateful to them, both as a personal matter and as a matter of principle.
Updated August 1, 2020