Appeals Courts Consider Whether Elected Officials Can Block Critics on Social Media

Law App IconOn March 26, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit heard oral argument in Knight First Amendment Inst. at Columbia University v. Trump, No. 18-1691 (2d Cir.), a case which will decide whether President Donald Trump can block people from seeing what he posts on Twitter.  (See Trending Law Blog, June 14, 2018).

Although the Second Circuit has not yet issued its decision, in a similar case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled on January 7, 2019 that the Chairman of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors – an elected official – violated the First Amendment when she temporarily blocked a constituent on Facebook.  See Davidson v. Randall, No. 17-2002 (4th Cir. Jan. 7, 2019).  In the unanimous decision of the Fourth Circuit, the court held that elected officials may not block critics on social media accounts used for official business.

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The President May Not Block Twitter Followers Because They Disagree With Him Politically

Donald_Trump_Official_Portrait“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. The answer to both questions is no.”  Thus, begins the 75 page decision of the Honorable Naomi Reice Buchwald, U.S.D.J. in Knight First Amendment Inst. at Columbia University v. Trump, No. 17-5205 (S.D.N.Y. May 23, 2018).

The court reached its decision after noting that the National Archives and Records Administration regards the President’s tweets as official records that must be preserved by statute and then finding that the President used his Twitter account to announce, describe, and defend his policies; to promote his administration’s legislative agenda; to announce official decisions; to engage with foreign political leaders; to publicize state visits; to challenge media organizations; and to announce matters related to official government business before those matters were announced through other channels.

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