Trump can't block users on Twitter, federal judge rules

A federal judge in New York ruled Wednesday that President Trump is in violation of the Constitution when he blocks users on Twitter.

Posted: May 23, 2018 4:52 PM
Updated: May 23, 2018 5:00 PM

(CNN Money) -- A federal judge in New York ruled Wednesday that President Trump is in violation of the Constitution when he blocks users on Twitter.

It's a remarkable development in one of the more peculiar debates of Trump's presidency, and a victory for the First Amendment advocates who brought the lawsuit last year.

In her ruling, Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald wrote that "no government official -- including the President -- is above the law, and all government officials are presumed to follow the law as has been declared."

"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, that such space is a designated public forum, and that the blocking of the plaintiffs based on their political speech constitutes viewpoint discrimination that violates the First Amendment," Buchwald wrote.

But Buchwald eschewed a decision on providing plaintiffs with relief, saying that her "declaratory judgment should be sufficient."

The Knight Institute, which filed the suit on behalf of several individuals who have been blocked by Trump, applauded the decision.

"We're pleased with the court's decision, which reflects a careful application of core First Amendment principles to government censorship on a new communications platform," said Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight Institute. "The President's practice of blocking critics on Twitter is pernicious and unconstitutional, and we hope this ruling will bring it to an end."

Katie Fallow, a staff attorney at Knight who represented the plaintiffs, said the ruling "should guide all of the public officials who are communicating with their constituents through social media."

The Justice Department defended Trump's Twitter activity, contending that muting is within the president's "associational freedoms." He may be president, the DOJ argued, but Trump still maintains a right to decide who he spends time with on the social media platform.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders and former White House communications director Hope Hicks, both of whom were named in the suit, were dismissed as defendants.

A Justice Department spokeswoman said "We respectfully disagree with the court's decision and are considering our next steps."

White House spokespeople did not respond to a request for comment regarding the decision and whether the President would now unblock the Twitter users.

The ruling arrives as something of a surprise, given what transpired at a hearing in March. At that time, Judge Buchwald urged both parties to find a resolution outside of court. Her idea for a settlement: perhaps Trump could mute, rather than block, his critics.

"Why are we here?" Buchwald asked at the hearing. "Don't we have a solution that serves the interests of the plaintiffs, serves the interests of the president?"

"It might be better to resolve it in a practical fashion," she added.

After the March hearing, Fallow indicated that she was amenable to Buchwald's proposal.

"As to the muting, I think that is an option," Fallow said at the time. "That is much less restrictive and burdensome on the plaintiffs' speech rights."

But some of the plaintiffs were less enthused by the idea. Outside the Manhattan courthouse in March, Philip Cohen, a sociology professor who was blocked by the president in June of last year, said that muting wouldn't resolve the underlying problem.

"I don't know if muting is really the solution, but if all they really care about, which they say, is that he just doesn't want to hear from us, then he would mute, but obviously he wants to suppress our speech," he said.

--Hadas Gold contributed to this report.

(The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2018 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.)

New York Coronavirus Cases

County data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1962225

Reported Deaths: 51204
CountyCasesDeaths
Kings2593439882
Queens2589849503
Suffolk1904633298
Nassau1746733095
Bronx1723656353
New York1297814289
Westchester1240922234
Erie795801681
Richmond694401737
Monroe595391030
Orange45320782
Rockland45148935
Onondaga35415659
Dutchess27449430
Albany23323342
Oneida21214497
Niagara17712332
Broome17098348
Saratoga14122159
Ulster12755241
Schenectady12228190
Rensselaer10465135
Putnam1002391
Chautauqua8205132
Chemung7033133
Oswego685790
Ontario672091
Steuben6169141
St. Lawrence611394
Sullivan595868
Cayuga577890
Jefferson538163
Wayne511967
Cattaraugus501580
Genesee4996121
Herkimer4856107
Clinton444132
Madison423185
Tompkins400049
Fulton396186
Livingston392658
Montgomery3802114
Columbia379399
Cortland350260
Warren331455
Tioga330458
Wyoming319851
Allegany312983
Otsego310246
Greene306674
Chenango300773
Washington279555
Orleans269783
Lewis240833
Franklin236512
Delaware210336
Seneca184356
Schoharie149815
Essex148326
Yates109126
Schuyler97513
Hamilton2962
Unassigned16389
Out of NY0215
Rome
Clear
39° wxIcon
Hi: 66° Lo: 40°
Feels Like: 39°
Binghamton
Clear
47° wxIcon
Hi: 65° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 47°
Rome
Clear
39° wxIcon
Hi: 68° Lo: 39°
Feels Like: 39°
Rome
Partly Cloudy
39° wxIcon
Hi: 63° Lo: 39°
Feels Like: 39°
WKTV Radar
WKTV Temperatures
WKTV Severe Weather
Saluting Those Who Are Proud 2 Serve
Enter the Rock Your Body Giveaway from Alivana Aesthetics
Looking for work or looking to hire? Check out the WKTV Job Fair!