White House Files Summary Judgment Motion in Response to Complaint Alleging Pres. Trump Violated Citizens’ First Amendment Rights - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
24519
post-template-default,single,single-post,postid-24519,single-format-standard,ajax_fade,page_not_loaded,,select-theme-ver-3.3,wpb-js-composer js-comp-ver-5.4.7,vc_responsive
 

White House Files Summary Judgment Motion in Response to Complaint Alleging Pres. Trump Violated Citizens’ First Amendment Rights

White House Files Summary Judgment Motion in Response to Complaint Alleging Pres. Trump Violated Citizens’ First Amendment Rights

In July 2017, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University (“the Institute”) filed suit in the District Court for the Southern District of New York alleging that the President and his team violated the First Amendment by blocking seven criticizers from his Twitter account.1 The Institute’s main argument is that President Trump’s Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump is not a private account, but is rather a public forum, making his speech state action and subject to limitations of the First Amendment.2 Put simply, they argue that blocking users infringes on their First Amendment rights because it prevents their ability to communicate with the President in a public forum.3 Specifically, the complaint states that his blocking of individuals:

“violates the First Amendment because it [(1)] imposes a viewpoint-based restriction on the Individual Plaintiffs’ participation in a public forum…[(2) restricts]… Individual Plaintiffs’ access to official statements the President otherwise makes available to the general public…[(3)] imposes a viewpoint-based restriction on the Individual Plaintiffs’ ability to petition the government for redress of grievances… [and (4)] imposes a viewpoint-based restriction on the Knight Institute’s right to hear.”4

The Complaint asks President Trump to immediately restore the seven plaintiffs’ access to his Twitter account so they are able to view and engage with his Twitter messages.5 Within the past several weeks, other organizations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown University Law Center have filed amicus briefs supporting the Institute’s lawsuit. 6

On October 13, 2017, the Department of Justice filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing the case is meritless because President Trump’s Twitter is “private,” rather than public, thus advocating that @realDonaldTrump cannot be a public forum.7 Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad Readler made several arguments, including: a violation of separation of powers for the Court to limit the President’s managing of his own Twitter account; that President Trump’s Twitter messages are not state actions, nor are they a public forum; and that the viewpoint-neutral requirement [for government speech] does not extend to President Trump’s Twitter account.8 The Justice Department also claims that the plaintiffs can still view President Trump’s tweets from an Internet browser not signed into their personal Twitter accounts,9 which may defeat one of the plaintiff’s strongest arguments.

The Motion was also backed by a letter to the court where the Department of Justice argued that the President’s Twitter account does not constitute a state action but is just one of “many…personal decisions he makes as president.”10

President Trump is a pioneer in using social media to disseminate official information from the Oval Office. Already, many local, state, and federal officials are increasing their social media presence, and it is likely that more politicians will continue to do so, making this case a test for how the existing law should apply in this new space.11 President Trump is also increasing the number of critics he blocks, most recently including Stephen King, veterans organizations, and a woman with stage 4 cancer who criticized his health care plan.12 Both sides had until November 22 to continue filing briefs.13


  1. Knight Institute v. Trump—Lawsuit Challenging President Trump’s Blocking of Critics on Twitter, Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, https://knightcolumbia.org/content/knight-institute-v-trump-lawsuit-challenging-president-trumps-blocking-critics-twitter [https://perma.cc/L2NV-W7ZX] (last visited Nov. 8, 2017).

  2. See Justice Department Insists Trump Twitter Account is Private, Constitution Daily (Oct. 18, 2017), https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/justice-department-insists-trump-twitter-account-is-private [https://perma.cc/VY8D-56PU].

  3. See Jack Jenkins, White House Claims Trump’s Twitter Account is Personal, so He Can Block Whoever He Likes, Think Progress (Oct. 14, 2017), https://thinkprogress.org/white-house-twitter-personal-eaa2346371e2/ [https://perma.cc/3L99-KDLM].

  4. See Knight First Amendment Inst. at Columbia Univ. v. Trump, No. 1:17-cv-5205 (S.D.N.Y. filed July 11, 2017) [hereinafter Complaint].

  5. Id.

  6. Knight First Amendment Inst. at Columbia Univ. v. Trump, No. 17-cv-5205 (NRB) (S.D.N.Y. filed Nov. 6, 2017).

  7. Knight First Amendment Inst. at Columbia Univ. v. Trump, No. 1:17-cv-5205 (S.D.N.Y. filed Oct. 13, 2017) [hereinafter The Motion].

  8. Id.

  9. Id.

  10. Letter to Judge Buchwald, Knight First Amendment Inst. at Columbia Univ. v. Trump, No. 1:17-cv-5205 (S.D.N.Y. filed Oct. 13, 2017); see also Jenkins, supra note 3.

  11. Joshua Geltzer & Amy Marshak, Trump Can’t Block his Hostile Twitter Followers. It’s Against the 1st Amendment, Newsweek (Nov. 7, 2017), http://www.newsweek.com/trump-cant-block-his-hostile-twitter-followers-its-against-1st-amendment-704191 [https://perma.cc/RAD7-MVEG].

  12. See Jenkins, supra note 3.

  13. See Justice Department Insists Trump Twitter Account is Private, supra note 2.

Chelsea Abramowitz

Chelsea Abramowitz is a 2L at Fordham University School of Law and is a passionate advocate against all forms of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.