It’s been reported today that a number of Twitter users are demanding that President Donald Trump unblock them or face potential legal action.
A letter sent from the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, which represents a group of Twitter users, asserts an interesting and pretty brilliant legal theory. The attorneys assert that since Donald Trump is a public official, and has used his Twitter account to directly interact with the public, that his Twitter account operates as a “designated public forum” for First Amendment purposes. That viewpoint has considerable merit. And if true, the viewpoint-based blocking of Twitter users who disagree with or criticize the President is unconstitutional.
One of the group’s clients, Holly O’Reilly, was blocked after tweeting Trump a GIF of the president meeting Pope Francis with the caption “This is how the rest of the world sees you.” Another client, Joseph Papp, was blocked over the weekend when he tweeted about Pittsburgh after Trump referenced the city in his speech about the Paris Climate Agreement. His tweet included the hashtag #fakeleader, and he was then blocked.
Since blocked users can’t interact with Trump on Twitter anymore, the attorneys argue that Trump blocking them suppresses speech in clear violation of the First Amendment.
The letter was also sent to Sean Spicer and Dan Scavino, who heads social media for Trump. Yes, there’s someone who apparently does that job, all appearances to the contrary.
There’s surprising and simple merit in this argument. The users were blocked after disagreeing with or ridiculing Trump, who is notoriously sensitive to criticism. Since Trump has chosen to use Twitter as a forum where he engages with people as a representative of the government, he can’t just pick and choose who can use the platform. They argue the government “may not exclude people simply because it disagrees with them.” The big issue in whether this argument can be successful really revolves around whether Twitter can be considered a designated public forum. Once that threshold is overcome, the argument is fairly persuasive. But of course, it’s untested, because there was never a reason to test the waters here before Trump.
There may be no more fitting punishment for this President than forcing him to be exposed to his harshest critics.
Just ask #PresidentBannon.