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Georgetown Law Joins Columbia in Trump Twitter Challenge

Universities argue president's blocking of critics on social media is unconstitutional, authoritarian 11/15/2017 8:46 AM Eastern
Georgetown Law

A couple of powerful educational institutions have now taken direct aim at the Tweeter-in-Chief.

Georgetown Law's Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP) has joined with Columbia's Knight Center to challenge President Donald Trump's use of Twitter as a platform for government-created public discussions, arguing that the President's discrimination against some speakers is a violation of the First Amendment.

ICAP has filed an amicus brief in support of the Knight Center's lawsuit challenging the President's practice of blocking critical tweets on his @realDonaldTrump feed.

The President is famously testy about criticism, particularly critical news stories, which he frequently characterizes as "fake news" and an effort to bring down his administration, and he has blocked Twitter users because of their viewpoints. The Knight Center warned the president back in June that it would sue if he did not unblock them, but said the White House did not respond.

ICAP argued in its brief, as did Knight, that by including official statements of government policy on his @RealDonaldTrump Twitter feed, the president has created a digital public forum, where precedent makes clear that viewpoint discrimination -- including blocking critics from that feed while allowing supporters -- is a violation of free speech protections under the First Amendment.

The White House has said that the President's tweets from @RealDonaldTrump are official statements, and also include responses by some Twitter users, and the President's responses to those.

“When the government creates a space for public discussion and debate, whether in a physical or virtual setting, it creates a public forum," said ICAP executive director Joshua Geltzer. "The Constitution then bars the government from silencing those who question it and giving voice only to those who praise it.”

ICAP said viewpoint discrimination by the government threatens the use of social media as a "crucial" setting for debate.

The brief argues that it is part of the standard playbook of authoritarian regimes that cultivate the sense that leaders must be adored, not criticized.

ICAP asked the court to prevent social media sites like Twitter from "being exploited by government officials to silence critics and bask in artificial adulation.”

The suit was filed in the Southern District of New York.

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