President Donald Trump may not block people on Twitter because of the political views they share on social media, a US judge has ruled.
US District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald said in New York on Wednesday that blocking people on Twitter violated their First Amendment rights, ruling that @realDonaldTrump is a presidential, not personal, account.
The case was brought by the Knight First Amendment Institute in a lawsuit against Trump and his communications team.
Trump was engaging in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination by blocking critics in a “public forum,” the court ruled.
Blocking people on Twitter is a tactic Trump’s administration has employed against at least dozens of people.
“We hold that portions of the @realDonaldTrump account ― the ‘interactive space’ where Twitter users may directly engage with the content of the President’s tweets ― are properly analyzed under the ‘public forum’ doctrines set forth by the Supreme Court,” Buchwald said in her ruling.
Twitter is often the first communication channel Trump turns to when making major announcements.
Last July, for example, he used the social media outlet to reveal his plans to ban transgender people from serving in the U.S. armed forces.
The ruling notes that “the @realDonaldTrump account has been used in the course of the appointment of officers (including cabinet secretaries), the removal of officers, and the conduct of foreign policy”.
In addition to the president, defendants named in the lawsuit include former White House communications director Hope Hicks, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and social media director Dan Scavino ― the man thought to be behind much of Trump’s unusual social media behaviour.
However, Buchwald excused Hicks and Sanders as defendants.
Wednesday’s ruling also addresses a suggestion made by a judge last summer that Trump instead “mute” his Twitter critics ― an option on Twitter that would allow the president to hide them from his feed but remain visible in theirs.
“Muting equally vindicates the President’s right to ignore certain speakers and to selectively amplify the voices of certain others but ― unlike blocking ― does so without restricting the right of the ignored to speak,” she wrote.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of seven Twitter users whom Trump blocked on the platform. Other well-known people blocked from his account include author Stephen King, actor Rosie O’Donnell and model and cookbook author Chrissy Teigen.
Buchwald ruled that unblocking the plaintiffs would be a “minimal” intrusion on executive prerogative, although she stopped short of ordering it outright.
“We must assume that the President and Scavino will remedy the blocking we have held to be unconstitutional,” she wrote.
Those blocked by the president celebrated the ruling on Twitter.