American President Donald Trump and high ranking members of the White House staff were sued on Tuesday by the Knight First Amendment Institute, which alleges the president’s blocking of dissenting Twitter users violates the US constitution.
The case filed in Manhattan federal court seeks a court order that Trump stop the practice. The institute, a nonprofit organisation affiliated with Columbia University, first warned it may seek an injunction in early June when they sent a letter to Trump, his counsel, press secretary and social media director.
At the time, the institute represented two Twitter users, both of whom said they were blocked after criticising the president on the social media platform. Tuesday’s lawsuit represents seven such Twitter users.
In the complaint, the foundation argues that the president’s Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, is “a public forum under the First Amendment” because of how both Trump and his staff use the account to communicate. Press secretary Sean Spicer has previously said Trump’s tweets are official statements.
“President Trump’s Twitter account has become an important source of news and information about the government, and an important forum for speech by, to, or about the president,” Jameel Jaffer, the Knight Institute’s executive director, said in a statement.
“The First Amendment applies to this digital forum in the same way it applies to town halls and open school board meetings. The White House acts unlawfully when it excludes people from this forum simply because they’ve disagreed with the president.”
The Knight Institute requested that the court move to declare “viewpoint-based blocking” by the president’s account unconstitutional, unblock the plaintiffs and pay the plaintiffs’ attorneys fees.
A request for comment from the White House wasn’t immediately returned.
One of the plaintiffs, comedian Nick Pappas, said he was blocked after replying to a tweet the president wrote about litigation surrounding the travel ban.
“Trump is right. The government should protect the people. That’s why the courts are protecting us from him,” Pappas tweeted.
He said he was blocked the day of his post, which accumulated hundreds of retweets.
Eugene Gu, another plaintiff, said he was blocked about two hours after tweeting at the president: “Covfefe: the same guy who doesn’t proofread his Twitter handles the nuclear button.”
Trump had tweeted, and then deleted, a post including the mysterious “covfefe”.
The other plaintiffs are Holly Figueroa, a political organiser, Rebecca Bulkwalter, a writer, Philip Cohen, a professor, Brandon Neely, a police officer and veteran, and Joseph Papp, a former professional cyclist.
All the plaintiffs allege they were blocked for tweeting messages that disagreed with the president and his policies.
Such blocking, the complaint stated, “imposes an unconstitutional restriction on their right to access statements that defendants are otherwise making available to the public at large. It also imposes an unconstitutional restriction on their right to petition the government for redress of grievances.” — Reported by Polly Mosendz, (c) 2017 Bloomberg LP