President Donald Trump has illegally blocked a handful of Twitter users for criticizing or mocking him on the social network, and they want their access restored, lawyers for the users say.
The lawyers, in a letter sent to Trump on Tuesday, argue that the US president’s account is a “public forum” from which the government is constitutionally barred from excluding people because of their opinions. The letter asks that the president lift the blockage against the targeted users and threatens possible legal action if he fails to comply.
The request raises First Amendment issues related to the president’s use of Twitter to make prolific and often controversial statements about public policy. The blockages suppress free speech by limiting users’ ability to view his tweets and comment on them, the letter said.
“This Twitter account operates as a ‘designated public forum’ for First Amendment purposes, and accordingly the viewpoint-based blocking of our clients is unconstitutional,” the letter said. “We ask that you unblock them and any others who have been blocked for similar reasons.”
The group is being represented by the Knight First Amendment Institute, a nonprofit organization at Columbia University. Jameel Jaffer, the institute’s executive director, said in a statement that the Constitution bars the president from excluding individuals from engaging in public discourse.
“Though the architects of the Constitution surely didn’t contemplate presidential Twitter accounts, they understood that the president must not be allowed to banish views from public discourse simply because he finds them objectionable,” Jaffer said. “Having opened this forum to all comers, the President can’t exclude people from it merely because he dislikes what they’re saying.”
One of the users blocked by Trump, according to the letter, is Holly O’Reilly, whose @AynRandPaulRand account was blocked in May after posting a GIF of Pope Francis glancing at Trump with a troubled expression, above which she wrote, “This is pretty much how the whole world sees you.”
The letter says that while Trump might have been offended by the post, and others critical of the president, the tweets are a protected form of free speech, and the users shouldn’t be punished by the government for their content.
“Of course, it is easy to understand why you and your advisers might have found our clients’ posts to be disagreeable,” the letter says. “Even if the posts were scornful and acerbic, however, they were protected by the First Amendment.”
The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
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