- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2018

A federal court judge has heard from attorneys arguing over whether President Trump can legally block Twitter users from interacting with his tweets.

U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald entertained oral arguments Thursday from the Trump administration and attorneys for several Twitter users blocked by the president amid a freedom of speech lawsuit brought on the latter’s behalf by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.

Knight sued the Trump administration in July on behalf of seven Twitter users who were blocked by Mr. Trump’s public account, @realDonaldTrump, after tweeting comments critical of either the president or his policies.

Plaintiffs alleged that blocking the Twitter users violated their freedom of speech because it rendered them unable to publicly respond or otherwise engage with the president’s tweets. The Trump administration asked for the suit to be dismissed, spurring Thursday’s hearing in Manhattan federal court.

“The president has an associational interest in deciding who he’s going to spend his time with in that setting,” Michael Baer argued for the Justice Department, adding that Mr. Trump’s Twitter activity is personal as opposed to a “state action,” Reuters reported.

“When you’re blocking them from an account you’re not blocking them from a place where individuals can interact with other individuals,” Mr. Baer said, Bloomberg reported.

The administration has argued in a separate case that Mr. Trump’s tweets constitute official presidential statements.

Arguing for the plaintiffs, Knight attorney Katherine Fallow said that the record “shows unambiguously that the president operates his account in an official capacity, according to the Reuters.

“He is operating it like a virtual town hall,” Ms. Fallow said. “Blocking it is a state action and violates the First Amendment. This is an official account and it is being used as a forum for speech.”

The judge declined to issue a ruling Thursday for the time being, but she suggested for now that the president consider using Twitter’s “mute” feature against critics rather than blocking them outright

“Isn’t the answer he just mutes the person he finds personally offensive?” the judge asked, The Associated Press reported. “He can avoid hearing them by muting them.”

“It’s not a perfect solution, but certainly, it is a pretty good one,” said Ms. Fallow.
Mr. Baer agreed muting accounts would enable Mr. Trump to avoid reading tweets from users of his choosing, The AP reported.

The judge will ultimately issue a written decision if the both sides fail to reach a compromise, according to court reporters.

“Like with every case, there is always a risk you can lose,” she said. “If there’s a settlement, that serves the interests of all parties. It’s often considered the wisest way to go.”

Plaintiffs in the case blocked by the president include political consultant Rebecca Buckwalter, University of Maryland sociology professor Philip Cohen, Grammy-nominated songwriter Holly Figueroa, Vanderbilt University surgeon Eugene Gu, former Guantanamo Bay prison guard Brandon Neely, retired cyclist Joseph Papp and comedy writer Nicholas Pappas.


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