Jul 9, 2019

Court rules Trump can't block Twitter followers

Photo: NurPhoto / Contributor/Getty Images

A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled that President Trump violated the Constitution in blocking critics of his viewpoints on Twitter.

Why it matters: This is a huge win for free speech advocates. The ruling sets a precedent that any elected official — from a local mayor to the president — who blocks a constituent on Twitter could be found guilty of violating that constituent's First Amendment rights.

Details: Tuesday's decision by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York aligns with an earlier decision by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia that ruled government officials can't block constituents on social media accounts that they use for official business, based on its interpretation of the First Amendment.

  • In its ruling, the 2nd Circuit held that: "The First Amendment does not permit a public official who utilizes a social media account for all manner of official purposes to exclude persons from an otherwise open online dialogue because they expressed views with which the official disagrees."

Between the lines: The White House had appealed the district court case on the grounds that the president was using the @realDonaldTrump Twitter handle, not his official @POTUS45 government handle, and thus the president has the right to block whomever he wants. The 2nd Circuit panel rejected that argument.

  • "President Trump established his account, with the handle @realDonaldTrump, (the “Account”) in March 2009," the ruling reads.
  • "No one disputes that before he became President the Account was a purely private one or that once he leaves office the Account will presumably revert to its private status. This litigation concerns what the Account is now ... The public presentation of the Account and the webpage associated with it bear all the trappings of an official, state‐run account."

The big picture: President Trump's consistent attacks on the press and access to information, mostly on social media, have forced judges to re-evaluate the rules of political communications in the digital era.

Go deeper: Trump's unexpected 1st Amendment legacy

Editor’s note: This post has been corrected to show that the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruling aligns with an earlier ruling by 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on whether public officials could block critics from social media accounts (the 2nd Circuit did not uphold the 4th Circuit's ruling).

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AOC sued after Trump court ruling for blocking Twitter users

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) is facing 2 lawsuits for blocking Twitter users based on their personal viewpoints.

Details: Former Democratic New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind filed a suit against Ocasio-Cortez after a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that President Trump violated the Constitution in blocking critics on Twitter. YouTuber and NY-11 Republican Congressional candidate Joey Saladino tweeted he'd also filed a suit against the freshman lawmaker after she blocked him.

What they're saying: Hivkind told Fox News the claim, which targets Ocasio-Cortez's personal account, is the same as the one against Trump. "She uses that account for political/policy commentary, so to shut a citizen off from her statements is a problem — as well as blocking me from petitioning her or seeking redress," he told the news outlet.

  • A spokesperson for Saladino — who's been called racist for his YouTube stunts targeting African-American people — said in a statement to Fox News that Ocasio-Cortez's decision to block him was "unprovoked."
  • The spokesperson critcized what they referred to as "digital feudalism, which those on the left seem enthusiastic about — completely antithetical to the American Nation."

Why it matters: The ruling in Trump's case set a precedent that any elected official — from a local mayor to the president — who blocks a constituent on Twitter could be found guilty of violating that constituent's First Amendment rights, Axios' Sara Fischer notes.

Go deeper: Trump's unexpected 1st Amendment legacy

Keep ReadingArrowJul 10, 2019

Federal appeals court sides with Trump in emoluments suit over D.C. hotel

Photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously in favor of President Trump on Wednesday, dismissing a lawsuit accusing the president of illegally profiting from links to foreign and state governments through the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., the Washington Post reports.

Why it matters: The suit attempted to use the Constitution's emoluments clause, which gives Congress the authority to review a president's financial relationships with foreign nations, as a way to obtain information regarding his private businesses, which the president has refused to release.

Go deeperArrowJul 10, 2019

Judges wary of Affordable Care Act mandate

Anti-Affordable Care Act protesters in 2012. Photo: Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images

A federal appeals court seemed likely on Tuesday to strike down what remains of the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate, but sent more mixed signals about its willingness to throw out the rest of the health care law along with it.

Why it matters: If a ruling striking down ACA comes to pass — like the one a lower court handed down last year — it would throw some 20 million people off their coverage, create ripple effects through almost every facet of the health care system and ignite an enormous political firestorm.

Go deeperArrowJul 9, 2019