Some people hurt the president’s feelings and were blocked on Twitter. Turns out Donald Trump may have violated their first amendment rights by doing so.
Say you’re the president of the United States (POTUS). You won the Electoral College election, but lost the popular vote by a wide margin. Most Americans do not want you to be the president of the United States. You don’t have any political experience, you have archaic social beliefs, you’re a poor orator, you’re violating the emoluments clause of the constitution, you’ve got suspicious ties to a foreign government, you’ve criticized freedom of the press, and perhaps worst of all, you’re quick to anger. What do you do if people start commenting on your Twitter posts in ways that contradict your statements with facts or mock your inexperience? You block them! That’s what you do if you’re @realDonaldTrump, you block the mean people saying
true mean things about you. But the president of the United States needs to have a level mind and thick skin. They need to respond to criticisms, the voice of the people, in a dignified manner, not silence them. By shutting down a means of communication between the electorate and the public forum that Donald Trump himself set up willingly, Trump silenced voters. Turns out, that could be a violation of their First Amendment rights.
A lawsuit was filed by the Knight First Amendment Institute. The Knight Institute is a Columbia University organization established in 2016. The institute “works to defend and strengthen the freedoms of speech and the press in the digital age.” The suit has been filed on behalf of seven people from the United States who were blocked on Twitter by the president for speaking out against him. What at first seemed funny, being blocked by POTUS, actually has some dark consequences. The president noticed criticism and shut down the free speech of those criticizing him, severing a link where Donald Trump shares “alternative facts” and formal, official announcements with the citizens of the United States and the world. By both preventing these people from receiving updates from the president as well as preventing them from speaking out against him directly, he’s silenced their free speech rights. Basically put, Donald Trump shouldn’t be allowed to silence American citizens for any reason because he’s not a private citizen anymore, he’s the head of the United States government.
“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…. The White House acts unlawfully when it excludes people from this forum simply because they’ve disagreed with the president.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 2, 2017
Donald Trump seemingly has two options. He could unblock everyone he’s blocked using his @realDonaldTrump Twitter account, or he could go to court over this. Clearly he’d prefer to do neither. The Knight Institute warned Donald Trump that they would bring a lawsuit if he didn’t unblock those he’s silenced; the Trump administration did not respond. This shows that he does not want to hear from the people he blocked ever again, even under threat of lawsuit. However, the lawsuit is seemingly cut-and-dry, that is, a clear example of the president silencing critics, which means he will have to go to court over this, and he will likely lose. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said last month that Trump’s tweets from the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account were to be considered “Official statements by the president of the United States.” By blocking people from reading these “official statements” (tweets) or responding to them, Trump has cut off a means of two way communication—speech—for people he deems unworthy of discussion. He’s also made it impossible for those who have not been blocked to engage with those who have in the replies to his tweets, violating the rights of every Twitter user to free discussion. This is a clear impeding of free speech as defined by the constitution. Twitter may be a private company, but Trump opened public communications on it, and the government cannot ban dissenters from public discussion.
“The White House is transforming a public forum into an echo chamber. 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.”
-Katie Fallow, senior staff attorney at the Knight Institute.
Trump is no stranger to lawsuits. He’s been a party to over 4,000 lawsuits. Everything from racial bias in housing discrimination, shorting contractors money he owed them, bitter divorce lawsuits, zoning violations, and more. However, now that he’s the president of the United States, these lawsuits will be unlike any he’s seen before. His experience with being sued will not be the same here. His attempts to bully those suing him or settling out of court won’t be able to silence a lawsuit fighting for freedom of speech. Trump will likely lose this suit, if he chooses to fight it, and that’s not going to look good for the 45th POTUS. If the president loses in a case and is found to have violated the freedom of speech of his constituents, he’s going to have an even more difficult time courting moderates to get re-elected in 2020.
Who would have thought a website, Twitter, could end up being at the center of such an important lawsuit?
- Alex Abdo, Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University: “@realDonaldTrump and the First Amendment.“
- BBC News: “President Trump sued for blocking people on Twitter.“
- Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University: “Critics Blocked from President’s Twitter Account File Suit.“
- Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University v. Donald J. Trump