Supreme Court Dismisses Suit by Blocked Trump Twitter Critics
(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Supreme Court set aside a federal appeals court ruling that former President Donald Trump violated the First Amendment when he blocked critics from following his Twitter account.
Acting on a lingering appeal from Trump, the justices ordered dismissal of lawsuit filed against him by seven blocked Twitter users. The case lost its practical impact after his election defeat and Twitter Inc.’s Jan. 8 decision to permanently ban his @realDonaldTrump account for glorifying violence.
The two sides had continued to spar over the fate of the appeals court decision. Before Trump left office, the Justice Department asked the justices to wipe away the precedent, while those suing him sought to keep it intact. Twitter wasn’t involved in the case.
Although the case didn’t concern Twitter’s banning of Trump, Justice Clarence Thomas in a concurring opinion suggested the government might constitutionally be able to limit the social media company’s power to remove users.
“If the aim is to ensure that speech is not smothered, then the more glaring concern must perforce be the dominant digital platforms themselves,” Thomas wrote. “As Twitter made clear, the right to cut off speech lies most powerfully in the hands of private digital platforms.”
Trump set up his Twitter account in March 2009 and brought it with him to the White House, where it became one of his favorite means of communication. Trump used the account to announce new policies, fire Cabinet secretaries, and later make unfounded claims of election fraud.
By blocking critics, Trump rendered them unable to see his tweets, reply to them or retweet them when the users were logged onto the social media service.
The New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said a social media account run by government officials can become a constitutionally protected “public forum” if used to conduct official business. The Supreme Court has said the government may not discriminate in a public forum on the basis of a speaker’s views.
Justice Department lawyers argued that the 2nd Circuit ruling would leave officials powerless to keep their social media pages from being overrun by harassment, trolling and hate speech.
The Twitter users said government officials would still be able to block threats and obscenity and could take such steps as limiting the number of replies one person can post within a specified time frame. The seven users were joined in their lawsuit by Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute.
The case, which was renamed after President Joe Biden was inaugurated, is Biden v. Knight First Amendment Institute, 20-197.
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