A judge in Manhattan today ruled that President Donald Trump was violating First Amendment rights by blocking users on Twitter. By preventing certain Americans from viewing his missives, sent in an official capacity as the president, Trump is apparently treading on American democracy itself.
“This case requires us to consider whether a public official may, consistent with the First Amendment, ‘block’ a person from his Twitter account in response to the political views that person has expressed, and whether the analysis differs because that public official is the President of the United States,” Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald wrote in her ruling. The answer to both of those dilemmas is no, she said.
The decision comes after the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University filed suit against the president last July.
Buchwald’s reasoning is not without precedent. Past court cases regarding politicians blocking people on social media have concluded that if the account is being used for official purposes — even if it’s a personal account — it is unlawful to block someone. There are certain exceptions (comment moderation and preventing harassment being obvious ones) but if the person is simply entering into a political disagreement, blocking them might be considered a violation. Last summer, a county-level politician in Virginia was ruled against after she was sued for blocking a constituent on Facebook.
While some of Trump’s blocks may be politically motivated, some of them might also come from years ago, when he was a private citizen. The White House has not commented on today’s ruling.