U.S. citizens have a First Amendment right to follow and respond to the President of the United States on Twitter, a federal judge ruled on Wednesday, in a decision that could help shape the future of digital identity rights, as well as political free speech on social media.
Federal District Court Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald issued a decision saying it is unconstitutional for President Donald Trump to block citizens on Twitter.
The decision stems from a complaint filed by seven individuals who were blocked by the president. Their complaint was supported by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.
In her decision, Buchwald, who serves in the Southern District of New York, said the account @realDonaldTrump falls under the Supreme Court definition of a public forum. By blocking users based on their political speech, Trump and those who handle his Twitter account were engaging in discrimination that violates the First Amendment.
“No government official — including the President — is above the law,” Buchwald wrote.
The plaintiffs in the case were not awarded any damages, as the judge felt a declatory judgment should be sufficient. However, it remains to be seen whether Trump and his social media team will, in fact, follow the judge’s orders.
“We respectfully disagree with the court’s decision and are considering our next steps,” a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, which represented Trump, said to The New York Times.
OWI Insight: On its face, the ruling may seem inconsequential, as anyone who is blocked and wants to view Trump’s tweets could simply log out of their account and view them publicly. But the decision does make it clear that a person’s digital persona and identity are entitled to the same First Amendment rights and access to elected officials as a traditional person would receive. If upheld by higher courts, it could end up applying to elected officials across the country.