New York, July 12: First Amendment advocates sued President Donald Trump on Tuesday, saying it is unconstitutional to block his critics from following him on Twitter.
The Manhattan federal court lawsuit from the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University cited seven individuals rejected by Trump or his aides after criticizing the president. Besides Trump, the lawsuit also named as defendants White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and Dan Scavino, White House director of social media.
Jameel Jaffer, the institute's director, said that dozens of people reached out after his organization told the White House three weeks ago that it wasn't permitted to block individuals from following the president's 8-year-old @realdonaldtrump account.
Trump doesn't seem to be the only politician trying to limit his audience. Jaffer said numerous people have said they were blocked from the accounts of Republican and Democratic politicians after posting critical comments.
A federal judge in Washington, DC. recently ruled that a local official's Facebook account was a public forum under the First Amendment, but higher courts have not yet addressed the issue, Jaffer said.
"It's fair to say that this is a new frontier," Jaffer said. "The First Amendment principle is well-settled, but the applicability of that principle to this context isn't an issue that the courts have yet had many occasions to address."
The lawsuit has asked a judge to stop Trump and his media team from blocking critics from following his personal account, which has 33 million followers, 14 million more than @POTUS and 19 million more than @WhiteHouse.
Dawn Dearden, a spokeswoman for government lawyers, declined to comment.
According to the lawsuit, blocking people from following Trump's account was a viewpoint-based restriction the US Constitution doesn't allow.
Others to be blocked included Philip Cohen, a University of Maryland sociology professor who called Trump a Corrupt Incompetent Authoritarian.