Complaint alleges White House violating constitution by keeping users out of ‘public forum’
A group of Twitter users blocked by President Donald Trump filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday claiming the White House is violating the constitution by keeping them out of a “public forum.”
The lawsuit was filed by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University on behalf of seven people whose Twitter accounts were blocked by the president or his aides. The complaint alleges that by blocking Twitter users based on their viewpoints, the president is keeping them out of online dialogue on current events, in violation of their free-speech rights in the U.S. constitution’s First Amendment.
The blocking, the lawsuit said, “imposes an unconstitutional restriction on their participation in a designated public forum” and aims “to suppress dissent in this forum.” The users were blocked from the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account because they criticized the president or his policies, the lawsuit alleges. Also named in the suit were the president’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, and social media director Daniel Scavino.
The free-speech group said the White House failed to respond to a letter last month complaining about the blocking. “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,” said Jameel Jaffer, the institute’s executive director. “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.”
Additionally, the lawsuit contends that the White House violates the rights of those who have not been blocked by purging critical voices from the social media forum. “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.”