The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has ruled that President Trump can't selectively block people from his Twitter account because he does not like what they tweet, upholding a lower court ruling last May that that constituted "unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.
The three-judge panel ruling can be appealed to the full court.
The court said the President has used Twitter to conduct official business and interact with the public. The White House has said that tweets were official statements, so it did the spadework for the ruling itself.
The National Archives has also concluded that the President’s tweets are official records that have to be preserved under the Presidential Records Act.
The court made clear it was not deciding whether an elected official excluding people from a purely private social media account is unconstitutional, or the even bigger issue of whether private social media companies are "bound by the First Amendment when policing their platforms."
But it did say the First Amendment "does not permit a public official who utilizes a social media account for all manner of official purposes to exclude persons from otherwise-open dialogue because they expressed views with which the official agrees."
The Knight First Amendment at Columbia University had filed suit in the Southern District of New York on behalf of seven people who "were blocked from the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account after criticizing the President," according to Knight.
Knight said that the President and his communications staffers had violated the First Amendment by blocking them because they had criticized him or his policies.
In upholding the lower court, the Second Circuit panel advised the Administration, and anyone else, against trying to use social media to suppress debate. "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 President has been a big critic, as well as user, of Twitter, saying recently that it was biased toward his critics.
“The Second Circuit today made a bold statement about how government officials like the president can use social media and how it relates to the flow of public information and debate on public issues," said Syracuse University Professor Roy Gutterman, director of the Tully Center for Free Speech. "The First Amendment prevents the president from blocking twitter followers because it would deprive users access to official government information. The opinion acknowledges that there are myriad First Amendment issues at play here, but the bottom line is the president should not deprive twitter users access to his official presidential account and reap the benefits of viewing his tweets, retweets and replies. If public speech is taking place in social media venues, then citizens should have access to the information under the First Amendment.”