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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

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

Why it matters: Some of these actions have led to historic legal cases or set new precedents that could create stronger protections in the long term.

Blocking people on Twitter

Heading into the summer, First Amendment advocates are waiting for a ruling that will end a two-year-long debate over whether Trump, and other public officials, can block constituents on social media.

  • In May 2018, the District court ruled that the president’s practice of blocking his critics on Twitter was unconstitutional. The government appealed that decision, and in March of this year, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in the case.
  • The principle from the expected ruling can be applied to like-minded cases throughout the country.
  • This means that any elected official — from a local mayor to the president — who blocks a constituent on Twitter could be found guilty of violating a person's First Amendment rights.
Deleting tweets

Shortly after Trump was elected, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) confirmed that tweets posted by Trump using his @realDonaldTrump handle are considered presidential records.

  • That makes the White House legally responsible for saving deleted or altered tweets and submitting them to the Archivist of the United States upon leaving office.
  • This provides more clarity for future presidents over whether their tweets must preserved as historical record.
Press credentials

Last year, a federal judge found that the White House's stripping of the security pass of CNN correspondent Jim Acosta was unconstitutional.

  • The ruling establishes a principle that future administrations and other elected officials must provide a meaningful process and establish a real justification, such as a security threat or operational burden created by a reporter's actions, in order to revoke a press pass.

Be smart: In many of these cases, courts have had to figure out ways to apply decades- long principles to new mediums.

  • "It's been very good to have clarity around which rules apply when government officials use a social media account," says Katie Fallow, senior staff attorney at the Knight Institute.

Yes, but: First Amendment advocates stress that despite these small wins, the president's rhetoric about the media being "the enemy of the people" and "fake news" is dangerous — and it provides cover for authoritarian regimes to threaten journalists around the world.

  • "This response doesn't excuse Trump's unforgivable rhetoric denouncing free press traditions our country holds dear, and in particular his active encouragement of violence against journalists," says Joshua Geltzer, executive director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown Law Center. 
  • "But it does inspire hope that his actions are meeting powerful resistance by those who cherish our First Amendment and the press freedoms it protects."

The bottom line: "Overall, President Trump's relentless attacks on the free press and on government transparency have yielded strong pushback from a number of institutions ... the media itself, entities like NARA charged with preserving key records, and the federal courts," says Geltzer.

Go deeper

16 mins ago - Podcasts

The vaccine race turns toward nationalism

The coronavirus pandemic is worsening, both in the U.S. and abroad, with cases, hospitalizations and deaths all rising.

Axios Re:Cap digs into the state of global vaccine development — including why the U.S. and China seem to going at it alone — with medicinal chemist and biotech blogger Derek Lowe.

Updated 29 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Large coronavirus outbreaks leading to high death rates — Coronavirus cases are at an all-time high ahead of Election Day.
  2. Politics: Top HHS spokesperson pitched coronavirus ad campaign as "helping the president" — Space Force's No. 2 general tests positive for coronavirus.
  3. World: Taiwan reaches a record 200 days with no local coronavirus cases — Europe faces "stronger and deadlier" wave.
  4. Sports: Boston Marathon delayed MLB to investigate Dodgers player who joined celebration after positive COVID test.
Felix Salmon, author of Capital
Updated 1 hour ago - Economy & Business

How central banks can save the world

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The trillion-dollar gap between actual GDP and potential GDP is a gap made up of misery, unemployment, and unfulfilled promise. It's also a gap that can be eradicated — if central banks embrace unconventional monetary policy.

  • That's the message from Eric Lonergan and Megan Greene, two economists who reject the idea that central banks have hit a "lower bound" on interest rates. In fact, they reject the idea that "interest rates" are a singular thing at all, and they fullthroatedly reject the idea — most recently put forward by New York Fed president Bill Dudley — that the Fed is "out of firepower."

Why it matters: If Lonergan and Greene are right, then central banks have effectively unlimited ammunition in their fight to increase inflation and employment. They are limited only by political will.