No, this is not The Onion, though it comes closer than anything I’ve seen in a long time.
The Hill reports that Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, ruled Wednesday ruled that the president cannot block people from viewing his Twitter feed based on their political views. The judge, appointed by Bill Clinton, argued that President Trump’s Twitter account is a “public forum” and that blocking people with differing opinions from replying to his tweets constitutes “viewpoint discrimination, which violates the First Amendment.”
According to the 75-page opinion, Trump’s only recourse is to ignore comments he finds personally insulting:
No First Amendment harm arises when a government’s ‘challenged conduct’ is simply to ignore the [speaker], as the Supreme Court has affirmed ‘that it is free to do.’ Stated otherwise, ‘a person’s right to speak is not infringed when government simply ignores that person while listening to others,’ or when the government ‘amplifies’ the voice of one speaker over those of others.
The decision is a big win for the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, which brought the lawsuit on behalf of seven Twitter users who were blocked from the @realDonaldTrump account because of opinions they expressed in reply tweets.
The ruling, which may be read in its entirety here, doesn’t go into details about the nature of the “opinions” expressed, though an examination of a random thread on the president’s Twitter account finds that some of them are pretty insulting and, in cases, downright contentious. A few examples:
Did the adult day care nurse read you the long & boring story?
— WhiteHouseWacko (@WhiteHouseWacko) May 20, 2018
— Christopher A. Clarke (@ChristopherACl8) May 20, 2018
Things are really getting ridiculous. The Failing and Crooked president has done a long & boring tweet saying that Mueller has found nothing on his corrupt administration when the investigation is not over and many have already been indicted. He wakes up scared and angry. SAD!
— Wendy Wasserman Schultz (@dvorakoelling) May 20, 2018
I can appreciate that the president is expected simply to grin and bear it if he finds these comments painful to read, but do the same rules apply to members of Congress and the judiciary? Would the same ruling have been made by this judge had it been Barack Obama that was doing the blocking? Also, Twitter engages in some pretty spotty practices in its own monitoring of the website, such as shadowbanning. If the company is not free to shut down Trump’s account — which according to this ruling one would imagine to be the case — then why does it enjoy that prerogative with any of its users?
My last question is whether this decision will be appealed by the administration.