The Knight First Amendment Institute, a digital rights group out of Columbia University, published an open letter to President Trump on Tuesday asking him to unblock his critics on Twitter or potentially face legal action for violating their constitutional rights.
In the four-page letter, the lawyers argue that Twitter “operates as a ‘designated public forum’ for First Amendment purposes, and accordingly the viewpoint-based blocking of our clients is unconstitutional.”
Because being blocked by a person on Twitter means you can’t see, search for, retweet or quote-tweet the other user, the Knight Institute argues that Trump is silencing American citizens based on their viewpoint and impeding upon their ability to critique the government when he blocks his critics, both rights protected by the First Amendment. From the Knight Institute:
Of course, it is easy to understand why you and your advisers might have found our clients’ posts to be disagreeable. Even if the posts were scornful and acerbic, however, they were protected by the First Amendment. As the Supreme Court has observed, “[t]he sort of robust political debate encouraged by the First Amendment is bound to produce speech that is critical of those who hold public office,” and public officials will on occasion be subject to “vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks.” The protection of speech critical of government officials is perhaps the core concern of the First Amendment, because the freedom of individuals to engage in this kind of speech is crucial to self-government.
This letter comes only days after a confusing back and forth from Trump’s advisers on whether or not Trump’s tweets represent the White House. During Tuesday’s press briefing, Sean Spicer said that the president’s tweets are in fact official White House statements, even though Spicer himself spends considerable time at these briefings distancing the White House from Trump’s messages on Twitter. Spicer’s confirmation comes just one day after Kellyanne Conway criticized the media’s “obsession” with the president’s tweets.
But we’ll let the man speak for himself:
Spicer and Trump are seemingly of one mind on how seriously to take Trump’s Twitter tantrums. That may actually be bad news for Trump’s political agenda, as the ACLU promised to use his recent string of tweets on the Muslim travel ban against him in future legal cases.
Trump’s greatest Twitter meltdown, however, might be coming later this week: According to The Washington Post’s Robert Costa, the president is expected to live-tweet ex-FBI director James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday. At a March hearing, Comey was called to fact-check one of the president’s tweets in real time.
To most, a world without Trump’s Twitter account probably sounds like a wonderful reprieve, but the Knight Institute is demanding the president or his subordinates take action to unblock users immediately.