The PEN America Center, a nearly century-old society for authors and artists, has filed a lawsuit in New York federal court alleging that President Donald Trump has repeatedly violated the First Amendment. The group is now requesting a declaratory judgment and demanding that Trump be enjoined from directing any officer in his administration from retaliating against speech that is critical of him.
“President Trump has directed his threats and retaliatory actions at specific outlets whose content and viewpoints he views as hostile,” states the complaint. “As a result, journalists who report on the President or his Administration reasonably believe they face a credible threat of government retaliation for carrying out the duties of their profession. President Trump has thus intentionally hung a sword of Damocles over the heads of countless writers, journalists, and media entities, including members of Plaintiff PEN America Center, Inc. His actions seek to accomplish indirectly what the President cannot do directly: impede professional and investigative journalism, and silence criticism.”
Among the acts complained about in the lawsuit is Trump’s calls to raise postal rates for Amazon, led by CEO Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post. The lawsuit also brings up the decision by the Justice Department to sue over the merger between AT&T and Time Warner after Trump’s vocalized displeasure with subsidiary CNN’s coverage.
Trump’s threats to revoke NBC’s broadcast licenses and the limiting of access for White House reporters is additionally flagged in the legal action.
“Defendant Trump’s credible threats of government retaliation, and his retaliatory uses of government power, harm Plaintiff’s members because his actions jeopardize their access to information and their right to receive information,” write the plaintiff’s attorneys. “Again, it is Defendant Trump’s intentional interference and actions with the aim of exerting improper influence that creates the First Amendment harm.”
PEN is working with legal counsel from The Protect Democracy Project and other groups in the lawsuit.