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Trump (copy) Twitter

President Donald Trump, seen here in the East Room of the White House, has been criticized for using Twitter as a policy forum and a channel for firing staff.  

A federal judge in New York Wednesday said President Donald Trump is not permitted under the U.S. Constitution to block people from his Twitter feed. 

The opinion, written by U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald, states that Trump's Twitter account is considered a "public forum" under the Constitution because it is an interactive space where Twitter users can dialogue directly with him and other users. The suit was filed against Donald Trump and several members of his staff — Hope Hicks, Daniel Scavin and Sarah Huckabee Sanders — by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. 

By blocking some users from accessing and participating in that space, Trump is discriminating against them, Buchwald found. 

"Blocking of the plaintiffs based on their political speech constitutes viewpoint discrimination that violates the First Amendment. In so holding, we reject the defendants’ contentions that the First Amendment does not apply in this case and that the President’s personal First Amendment interests supersede those of plaintiffs," Buchwald wrote. 

Don Moynihan, a professor and director of the LaFollette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is one Twitter user who was blocked from Trump and cheered Wednesday's ruling. 

Moynihan called Trump's Twitter feed some of the most "valuable civic space online," tantamount to a town hall with thousands of people reading and responding in real time. 

"It's a great decision. Clearly the Constitution was written a long time before we had Twitter, but you have to think about how standards of free speech are going to matter in contemporary discourse. It might sound a little bit silly to raise a First Amendment issue here, but the President has made Twitter his most important policy forum," Moynihan said. 

"He fires his own cabinet secretaries on Twitter. He makes public announcements on Twitter," he added. "By excluding people who care about public policy and have an interest in responding to him, I do believe he is limiting our First Amendment rights."

Moynihan was blocked in January 2017 after posting a satirical tweet about investigators from the Robert Mueller probe examining Trump's financial records. 

Wednesday's ruling could have implications for other public officials who use Twitter to discuss policy and dialogue with constituents, including a Wisconsin case making its way through federal court.  

The suit, filed by the liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now in November 2017, is against three Republican state legislators: Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester; Rep. Jesse Kremer, R-Kewaskum; and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, for blocking One Wisconsin Now, after the group expressed opposing political viewpoints against the legislators. 

Scot Ross, executive director of One Wisconsin Now, said the group is encouraged by the ruling.  

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“We are encouraged by this ruling and the fact elected Republicans are being reminded that when they create a public forum, they can't silence people with whom they disagree,” said Ross. “The First Amendment applies to elected officials like Donald Trump just like it applies to elected officials like Robin Vos, John Nygren and even Jesse Kremer.”

The state Department of Justice is representing the lawmakers. DOJ spokeswoman Rebecca Ballweg said in an email that the "federal case does not affect the case in Wisconsin" and said there are no other updates in the case. 

"The OWN case is still in the very early stages, discovery," she said. 

Vos's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the case Wednesday. 

No hearing has been scheduled for One Wisconsin Now's case. 

 

Katelyn Ferral is The Cap Times' public affairs and investigative reporter. She joined the paper in 2015 and previously covered the energy industry for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. She's also covered state politics and government in North Carolina.