“Excluding people from an otherwise public forum such as this by blocking those who express views critical of a public official is, we concluded, unconstitutional,” wrote Judge Barrington D. Parker.
“Twitter is not just an official channel of communication for the President; it is his most important channel of communication,” the judge concluded in a decision with implications for how elected officials throughout the country use social media platforms to communicate with constituents.
Two judges, nominated to the bench by Trump, disagreed with the decision and would have reconsidered the earlier ruling.
“The First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech does not include a right to post on other people’s personal social media accounts, even if those other people happen to be public officials,” Judge Michael H. Park wrote in a dissent, joined by Judge Richard J. Sullivan.
Park acknowledged that the president’s use of Twitter has been unprecedented but noted that Trump created his personal @realDonaldTrump account years before taking office.
Allowing the court’s decision to stand, he wrote, will lead to the social media pages of public officials being “overrun with harassment, trolling, and hate speech, which officials will be powerless to filter.”
Of the nine judges who considered the Trump administration’s request, only Park and Sullivan announced they would have revisited the earlier decision.
The decision Monday leaves in place a unanimous three-judge panel ruling from July. The court held that because the president uses his Twitter account to conduct official government business, he cannot exclude voices or viewpoints with which he disagrees.
The court’s initial ruling addressed only the interactive spaces on Twitter for replies and comments, and applies to accounts used to conduct official business. The judges also did not decide whether elected officials violate the Constitution when they block users from private accounts.
The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University filed the lawsuit in 2017 on behalf of seven people blocked from the president’s account. Katie Fallow, one of their attorneys, said in a statement Monday that the court’s action affirms that the First Amendment “bars the President from blocking users from his account simply because he dislikes or disagrees with their tweets.”
“This case should send a clear message to other public officials tempted to block critics from social media accounts used for official purposes,” she said.
The Justice Department is reviewing the ruling, a spokeswoman said.