Donald Trump Can't Block Twitter Users Over Politics, Judge Rules

President Donald Trump can't block Twitter users because of their political opinions without violating the First Amendment, a New York federal judge has ruled.

Trump, along with others associated with his administration, was sued last summer by a handful of Twitter users and the Knight First Amendment Institute. They claimed the president uses Twitter as a public forum to share official information in his capacity as president and therefore was violating their right to petition the government by blocking them.

The Department of Justice, in a motion for summary judgment filed in October, challenged plaintiffs' standing to sue and argued his use of the social media platform isn't regulated by the First Amendment.

In a 75-page order issued Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald found that Twitter is indeed a designated public forum and "viewpoint-based exclusion" of the plaintiffs from that forum violates the First Amendment.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and former communications director Hope Hicks are dismissed as defendants in the suit, but social media director Daniel Scavino remains a defendant because he routinely accesses Trump's Twitter account.

While this lawsuit targets Trump's behavior, Buchwald's ruling extends to all public officials — and could likely spark a wave of similar litigation against other block-happy government employees. 

"This case requires us to consider whether a public official may, consistent with the First Amendment, 'block' a person from his Twitter account in response to the political views that person has expressed, and whether the analysis differs because that public official is the President of the United States," writes Buchwald. "The answer to both questions is no." 

Buchwald held that the @realDonaldTrump account meets the Supreme Court's standards for a designated public forum and barring participation based on political speech constitutes viewpoint discrimination and "no government official — including the President — is above the law."

She notes that not only does Trump tweet about his policies, agenda and other government business from that account but he also sometimes makes official announcements from it before they're announced to the public through more traditional channels.

Her analysis highlights the conversational nature of Twitter as a platform, and notes that Trump would have been better off muting the users whose opinions he'd rather not read because blocking them restricts their ability to speak by limiting their ability to reply to his tweets.

"The audience for a reply extends more broadly than the sender of the tweet being replied to, and blocking restricts the ability of a blocked user to speak to that audience," writes Buchwald. "While the right to speak and the right to be heard may be functionally identical if the speech is directed at only one listener, they are not when there is more than one."

Buchwald contends that the court has the authority to issue an injunction directing Trump to unblock the plaintiffs, because no government official has the discretion to act unconstitutionally, but she stops short of doing so because declaratory relief should be sufficient.

"[A] declaration will therefore issue: the blocking of the individual plaintiffs from the @realDonaldTrump account because of their expressed political views violates the First Amendment," she writes. "Because no government official is above the law and because all government officials are presumed to follow the law once the judiciary has said what the law is, we must assume that the President and Scavino will remedy the blocking we have held to be unconstitutional."

Read the full order below.