President Donald Trump can’t ban critics from his Twitter account, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday, saying the First Amendment calls for more speech, rather than less, on matters of public concern.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan upheld a lower court judge who said Trump violates the Constitution when he blocks critics.
“The irony in all of this is that we write at a time in the history of this nation when the conduct of our government and its officials is subject to wide-open, robust debate,” Circuit Judge Barrington D. Parker wrote on behalf of a three-judge panel.
The debate generates a “level of passion and intensity the likes of which have rarely been seen,” the court’s decision read.
“This debate, as uncomfortable and as unpleasant as it frequently may be, is nonetheless a good thing,” the 2nd Circuit added. “In resolving this appeal, we remind the litigants and the public that if the First Amendment means anything, it means that the best response to disfavored speech on matters of public concern is more speech, not less.”
The Justice Department did not immediately comment.
The ruling came in a case brought by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. It had sued on behalf of seven individuals blocked by Trump after criticizing his policies.
Jameel Jaffer, the institute’s director, said in an email that public officials’ social media accounts are now among the most significant forums for discussion of government policy.
The ruling “will ensure that people aren’t excluded from these forums simply because of their viewpoints,” he said.
Trump has over 60 million followers of his @realDonaldTrump Twitter account.
During oral arguments earlier this year, attorney Jennifer Utrecht argued for the president, saying that the account was created long before Trump became president and that he was acting in a private capacity when he blocks individuals.
Parker was critical during those arguments, foreshadowing Tuesday’s decision.
“Are you seriously urging us to believe that the president is not acting in his official capacity when he is tweeting?” Parker said, noting that Trump subtracts from robust public discussion by blocking critics. “Why isn’t that just a quintessential First Amendment violation?”
The appeals court ruled that the First Amendment does not permit a public official using a social media account for “all manner of official purposes” to exclude people from an otherwise open online dialogue because they disagree with the official.
The ruling Tuesday upheld a decision last year by U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald.