Trump can’t block critics on Twitter, says federal Judge

Judge rules Trump can't block people from Twitter account

Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald in a Manhattan court ruled on Thursday morning (AEST) that Mr Trump may not legally block Twitter users because doing so violates their rights under the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

US President Donald Trump can not block users on his Twitter feed, a NY federal judge has ruled.

The users were joined by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, which contended that the discussions arising from Mr Trump's tweets should be considered a public forum. She said she assumed Trump's social media director Dan Scavino would unblock the users in light of her decision.

The Justice Department has 60 days to appeal the ruling.

It is unclear if Trump would unblock those he had blocked and the judge did not explicitly rule on that.

"Because no government official is above the law", Judge Buchwald concluded on Wednesday, "we must assume that the President and Scavino will remedy the blocking we have held to be unconstitutional".

The president has more than 52.2 million Twitter followers and has tweeted more than 37,600 times since opening his account in March 2009.

Judge Buchwald agrees, saying the platform is a "designated public forum" from which Mr Trump can't exclude individuals.

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The decision marks a victory for free-speech activists representing seven Twitter users who alleged that their rights had been infringed after they tweeted at Trump critiquing his policies.

The claimants argued their First Amendment (free speech) rights "have been and will continue to be encumbered and the ability to communicate has been and will be limited because of each individual plaintiff's personal ownership of a Twitter account that was blocked".

The judge's ruling noted that Trump has used his personal account, which has 52.2 million followers, to announce that the US military would not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve, that he meant to nominate Christopher Wray to head the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and that he was firing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin.

Another plaintiff, Rebecca Buckwalter, who is now an editor for the left-leaning website The Daily Kos, was blocked for replying to a June tweet from Mr. Trump that read, "Sorry folks, but if I would have relied on the Fake News of CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, washpost or nytimes, I would have had ZERO chance winning WH".

While the ruling narrowly targets the Trump administration and is not binding on other public officials, it establishes an important legal precedent that they will be likely to follow.

"We respectfully disagree with the court's decision and are considering our next steps", Kerri Kupec, Justice Department spokesperson said.

Twitter has always been dogged by questions about how far its users' right to speech may extend.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders and former White House communications director Hope Hicks, both of whom were named in the suit, were dismissed as defendants.

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