Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) is facing two federal lawsuits for blocking Twitter users who were critical of her or her policies. Republican congressional candidate Joseph Saladino and former New York assemblyman Dov Hikind sued the freshman congresswoman Tuesday, shortly after a New York appellate court upheld an earlier decision affirming that President Trump violated the First Amendment for doing the same.
“I have officially filed my lawsuit against AOC for blocking me on twitter. Trump is not allowed to block people, will the standards apply equally?” Saladino wrote on Twitter after filing his claim Tuesday in the Southern District of New York.
Hikind, who also filed Tuesday, said in a statement to Fox News, “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has blocked me on Twitter yesterday apparently because my critique of her tweets and policies have been too stinging.”
Citing the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit decision as “a precedent that Ocasio-Cortez must follow,” he said, “Elected officials cannot block individuals from their Twitter accounts.”
Ocasio-Cortez declined to comment on pending litigation.
The First Amendment limits government action and bars it from discriminating against viewpoints. Public officials, the court said Tuesday, cannot exclude members of the public “from an otherwise open online dialogue because they expressed views with which the official disagrees.”
The Knight Institute at Columbia University, which represented the blocked users, argued that the president’s Twitter account was routinely used to conduct official business, furthering his legislative agenda, and that the comment section was the modern-day equivalent of a “public forum.” Citizens, attorneys said, must be able to engage in public policy discussion.
“Since he took office, the President has consistently used the Account as an important tool of governance and executive outreach,” Judge Barrington D. Parker wrote in the 29-page opinion. “Because the President, as we have seen, acts in an official capacity when he tweets, we conclude that he acts in the same capacity when he blocks those who disagree with him.”
Trump, who boasts over 61 million followers, may have a larger following than Ocasio-Cortez’s 4.7 million. Still, his case creates an unusual First Amendment precedent: If Trump is banned from blocking critics, should the same reasoning extend to other elected officials who use Twitter to communicate with constituents?
“The law applies to socialists just as it does to capitalists,” Hikind tweeted Tuesday evening, calling for anyone who “has been blocked by @AOC” to contact him. “If the courts ruled POTUS can’t block people on Twitter, why would [Ocasio-Cortez] think she can get away with silencing her critics?”