Trump Can Block People on Twitter. Six Silly People and a Judge Abuse First Amendment
It’s bad law and the president isn’t even bothering to obey it. A federal district court judge ruled last week that Donald Trump cannot block people on Twitter. She said his exercising his right to free speech on a private company’s forum somehow violated … the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech.
It’s a non-problem with a made-up solution. The solution is unconstitutional.
Trump Blocks People
The six people who sued him demanded access to @realDonaldTrump. It’s his old personal account. It’s not his official presidential Twitter account. He blocks people who disagree with him politically, mainly when they tweet rudely at him. He blocks bullies and trolls. The plaintiffs merely want to annoy him with their tweets.
And what’s the point, anyway? Anyone can see Trump’s tweets as long as they are not logged into Twitter. The people he blocked can see them. They can tweet as many attacks on him as they want. Everyone else can see their attacks.
Here’s the one thing they can’t do. They can’t interact with him. He won’t see their tweets. That’s all blocking does. And who in the world thinks he’s going to see them anyway? He must have seen their tweets once and blocked them. But the man gets tens of thousands of tweets a day. And he has a day job. He rarely responds to tweets directed at him. He was never going to respond to these critics anyway.
Still, the six people who sued over being blocked claim being blocked is “burdensome.” Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald agreed, calling it a “cognizable injury-in-fact.” It isn’t. Anyone who’s used Twitter knows it’s a minor inconvenience. At most.
In any case, this decision will be reversed because Twitter is a private company (merely publicly traded). It’s not a public forum.
A Public “Interactive Space”
One more thing. Buchwald is a Senior Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. She was was appointed by — bet you didn’t see this coming — President Clinton.
Judge Buchwald stated in her opinion that the “interactive space” where Twitter users interact with Trump constitutes a public forum. The First Amendment protects their access to it. That’s the reason (she claims) he can’t block them.
However, she admits that this judgment — lawyers call it “forum analysis” — only applies to forums “owned or controlled by the government.” She cites several examples, but they are government property: public schools, public parks, city buses, federal workplaces. Her one exception is a privately-owned theater under lease to a city. In other words, it too is government property for the lease period.
So the judge doesn’t have any examples? How does she explain making the president do something he doesn’t want to do on his own page in a forum supplied by a private company? Judge Buchwald offers a slippery slope argument.
She claims that because the president uses Twitter, that means it’s under government control. Yet at the same time, she admits, “Twitter also maintains control over the @realDonaldTrump account.” Ultimately, Twitter has the final authority over the account, and could even delete it. Trump’s use of it doesn’t magically transform private property into public property.
A Dangerous Precedent
If allowed to stand, this decision would set a dangerous precedent. Any private company utilized by governmental leaders could be designated a public forum. The courts could tell the politicians who use them what they could and could not do on the site.
Why stop with Twitter, why not designate coffee shops and bars as public forums since officials frequently engage in political debates there? Why not designate any private location, app or social media that Trump frequents as a public forum?
If that happened, eventually politicians would stop using these forums. The public would suffer. Even Trump’s enemies appreciate having him on Twitter. It allows them to know what he’s thinking. His tweets give them something to write about.
Trump should be able to block rude tweets directed at him. Compare it to the private telephone system. If someone repeatedly calls the White House to rudely criticize him, he can block their calls. Just because he uses the phone system doesn’t oblige him to take calls from bullies. The phone system doesn’t become a public forum because Trump talks on the telephone.
Trump’s tweeting has proven to be powerful and influential. His enemies would love to dismantle his ability to speak immediately and directly to the American people. So, this is no doubt just the beginning of efforts to stop him from doing so.