Supreme Court dismisses case over Trump and Twitter critics

James Marshall
Апреля 7, 2021

In the past, the court has ruled that neither retains First Amendment rights.

The lower-court decision had implications for other elected officials and how they communicate on social networks. But the justices said April 5, 2021, there was nothing left to the case after Trump was permanently suspended from Twitter and ended his presidential term in January.

The case dates back to March 2018, when the Knight First Amendment Institute and others brought a case against former president Trump in the Southern District of NY for blocking users based on their political views, arguing the practice is a violation of the first amendment.

"The public interest in preventing impermissible viewpoint discrimination in government-operated social media accounts weighs heavily in favor of keeping the Second Circuit's judgment in place", it said in a brief.

Although that happened, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in another case in 2019 that a public official in Loudon County, VA could not block a user from her Facebook page because her account was a "public forum" under the First Amendment.

Justice Clarence Thomas agreed with the decision in light of Trump no longer being president, but the conservative jurist illustrated the complexity of the matter given that Trump ultimately did not have full control over his own account. Trump used the account to announce new policies, fire Cabinet secretaries, and later make unfounded claims of election fraud.

The Justice Department called that opinion "deeply problematic", and argued it "blurs the lines between governmental and personal actions", and "exposes federal and state employees to constitutional liability when using their own personal property to speak about their jobs".

Meanwhile, Justice Thomas wrote separately to note that while the plaintiffs had a point that "some aspects of Mr. Trump's account resemble a constitutionally protected public forum", there was a "principal legal difficulty that surrounds digital platforms - namely, that applying old doctrines to new digital platforms is rarely straightforward".

Thomas said the 2nd Circuit had feared that Trump cut off speech by using Twitter's blocking features.

Even though Facebook and Google were not the platforms in question in this case, Thomas pointed to them as "dominant digital platforms" and stated that they have "enormous control over speech".

If so, those companies could theoretically be subject to regulations prohibiting them from discriminating against speech based on its content. Thomas goes on to ask whether social media should be considered "common carriers" in the same way telecoms companies already are, which in turn would limit their right to exclude.

"The similarities between some digital platforms and common carriers or places of public accommodation may give legislators strong arguments for similarly regulating digital platforms", Thomas said. "For many of today's digital platforms, nothing is".

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