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Donald Trump Cannot Block Twitter Users, Federal Judge Rules

Is President Trump violating the First Amendment rights of users he’s blocked? A federal judge ruling may change the president’s Twitter game.

By Sharon Lynn Pruitt

Getting blocked by President Donald Trump on Twitter can be a badge of honor — but that could be a thing of the past.

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that his habit of blocking his critics on Twitter is unconstitutional and a violation of the First Amendment.

The case was brought last July by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, the Associated Press reports. The institute represented several people who had been blocked by Trump’s presidential account after criticizing the president or his policies. The suit argued that Trump and two of his aides — White House social media director Dan Scavino and then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer — violated the groups’ First Amendment rights by blocking them.

“It’s like barring people at the door of a city council meeting because they criticized your policy,” Katie Fallow, a senior attorney at the Knight First Amendment Institute, told The Guardian last year.

And the judge agrees.

“While we must recognize, and are sensitive to, the President’s personal First Amendment rights, he cannot exercise those rights in a way that infringes the corresponding First Amendment rights of those who have criticized him,” said Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald in her ruling, rejecting arguments made by Justice Department lawyers.

Judge Buchwald did not order Trump nor his subordinates to stop Twitter blocking. As she explained in her ruling, “A declaratory judgment should be sufficient, as no government official — including the President — is above the law, and all government officials re presumed to follow the law as has been declared.”

She did not order them to unblock individual plaintiffs: surgeon Eugene Gu told Newsweek on Thursday that he and the other plaintiffs listed in the suit are still blocked.  “One option is to ask the judge to issue an injunction which would, in essence, force the president to unblock us,” said the surgeon who was blocked after mocking the president for his infamous "Covfefe" tweet with a reply saying “Covfefe: The same guy who doesn't proofread his Twitter handles the nuclear button.”

The White House has yet to comment on the ruling, NBC News reports, though President Trump did tweet "WITCH HUNT!" around the time of the ruling.

“We respectfully disagree with the court’s decision and are considering our next steps,” Kerri Kupec, a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice, said in an email to AP.

“The president’s practice of blocking critics on Twitter is pernicious and unconstitutional, and we hope this ruling will bring it to an end,” said Jameel Jaffer, the Knight Institute’s executive director, in a statement on Wednesday.

[Photo: The Twitter app is seen on a cell phone on March 28, 2018. By Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images]