Suing people isn’t easy. Suing the President of the United States of America, however, is huge pain in the ass. But that hasn’t stopped a group of Twitter users from filing suit against Donald Trump. These free speech advocates were all blocked by Trump after tweeting things he didn’t like. Now they’re claiming this violated their First Amendment rights.
It might not be as crazy as it sounds. The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, which is representing the plaintiffs, claims that Donald Trump’s personal Twitter account is a public forum that the president uses on a daily basis. The institute said as much in a letter to Trump last month and threatened legal action if the president didn’t unblock his critics on Twitter. On Tuesday, the Knight Institute and seven plaintiffs took that legal action. The lawsuit reads:
The @realDonaldTrump account is a kind of digital town hall in which the president and his aides use the tweet function to communicate news and information to the public, and members of the public use the reply function to respond to the president and his aides and exchange views with one another
Obviously, there are other ways to view Trump’s tweets, but that’s not the point. The point is the fact that the president is silencing American citizens who are simply expressing their constitutional right. It’s not like Trump is being sneaky about blocking his critics either. Here’s the tweet that got one of the plaintiffs blocked by the president:
It’s hardly a surprise that Trump would want people to stop from reminding him that the FBI is investigating his campaign’s dealings with Russia during the 2016 election. Whether Trump is blocking these people in order to shut them up or simply as a childish attempt at retaliating against their criticism is unclear for now. It doesn’t really make a difference, though.
Trump isn’t the only one who tweets from his personal account. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and White House Social Media Director Dan Scavino are also named in the suit. You’ll recognize Spicer as the clown who was hiding “among” the bushes while trying to avoid the press after Trump fired James Comey. Dan Scavino is less of a household name, but he’s the guy who broke the law with a tweet last month. Scavino is also likely the mastermind behind that Trump tweet showing the president clotheslining a man with the CNN logo as his head. The story behind that specific tweet and its aftermath, however, is its own twisted saga.
The new lawsuit’s demands are pretty simple. The plaintiffs want Trump to unblock them and prohibit Trump from blocking anyone else who tweets things he doesn’t like. Oh, and also pay for their legal fees, which will surely be substantial since Trump has a decades’ old habit of suing people out of existence.
That said, it’s unclear how long the lawsuit will take and what Trump’s lawyers will use as a defense. One argument could include the idea that Trump’s personal account shouldn’t be treated as an official communications channel. This probably won’t work, since Trump used Twitter to announce his nomination of Christopher Wray as the new FBI director. The National Archive also instructed Trump not to delete tweets because doing so violated federal record-keeping laws, making a strong case that his personal Twitter account is considered an official channel. Finally, Trump himself pretty much admitted that it was in a tweet last week:
And so now you have another batshit crazy presidential scandal to keep up with. It’s all part of a much bigger scandal, though, the one that involves a former reality TV star with a disregard for the truth and no prior political experience running our country and waging war on the media. Even if his intentions are sound and his ideas are good, the president’s unpresidential behavior is unprecedented. So there are lawsuits, and there are investigations, and there are scandals, and there are embarrassments. And there are three-and-a-half more years before the next election.