Second Circuit Denies Full Court Review of Decision Holding that President Trump Violated First Amendment by Blocking Critics on Twitter

NEW YORK, March 23, 2020 – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit today denied the Trump administration’s request for en banc review of the ruling by a three-judge panel holding that the president’s practice of blocking critics from his Twitter account violates the First Amendment. The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University filed the case in 2017 on behalf of seven people who were blocked from the @realDonaldTrump account after they criticized the president in comment threads associated with that account.

“We’re pleased that the full appeals court will leave the panel’s original ruling in place,” said Jameel Jaffer, the Knight Institute’s Executive Director, who argued the case before the Second Circuit. “The ruling is an important affirmation of core First Amendment principles as applied to new communications technology.”

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In July of last year, a unanimous three-judge panel of the federal appeals court affirmed an earlier ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York that held that the president’s Twitter account constitutes a “public forum” under the First Amendment and that the president is therefore barred from blocking speakers from his account on the basis of viewpoint. Following the district court’s ruling, the president unblocked the plaintiffs but also appealed the decision.

“The First Amendment bars the President from blocking users from his account simply because he dislikes or disagrees with their tweets,” said Katie Fallow, Senior Staff Attorney at the Knight Institute. “This case should send a clear message to other public officials tempted to block critics from social media accounts used for official purposes.”

The Second Circuit was the second appellate court in the country to hold that a public official’s social media account can sometimes be a public forum under the First Amendment. In January of last year, in a case also argued by the Knight Institute, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit found in favor of Brian Davison, a Virginia resident who was temporarily blocked from the Facebook page of a local public official.

The order denying en banc petition is here: https://knightcolumbia.org/documents/daa1a14eb1/2020.03.23_ECF-162_Order-denying-en-banc-petitiion.pdf

Read more about Knight Institute v. Trump here: https://knightcolumbia.org/cases/knight-institute-v-trump

Lawyers on the case include, in addition to Jaffer and Fallow, Alex Abdo, Carrie DeCell, Jake Karr, and Meenakshi Krishnan of the Knight Institute, and Jessica Ring Amunson, Tassity Johnson, and Tali R. Leinwand of Jenner & Block.
The Knight First Amendment Institute defends the freedoms of speech and the press in the digital age through strategic litigation, research, and public education. Its aim is to promote a system of free expression that is open and inclusive, that broadens and elevates public discourse, and that fosters creativity, accountability, and effective self-government. www.knightcolumbia.org