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Policy Brief No. 40

Policy Summary: The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech…or the right of the people…to petition the Government for a redress of their grievances.” In the 1983 U.S. Supreme Court case Perry Education Association v. Perry Local Educators’ Association the court categorized government property for purposes of which rules would control speech and expression activities and listed three categories: [1] traditional public forums, [2] limited, or designated, public forums, and [3] non – public forums. Justice White explained that when it comes to speech in a limited, or designated, public forum “a content – based prohibition must be narrowly drawn to effectuate a compelling state interest.” In July 2017, the Knight First Institute at Columbia University and seven other plaintiffs sued President Trump because they were blocked from the President’s Twitter account. On May 23, 2018, Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a Memorandum and Order characterizing President Trump’s Twitter account as “a limited, or designated, public forum” and that his banning of followers according to their viewpoint was “proscribed by the First Amendment.” LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Analysis: The decision from Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald is not only a wake up call to all government officials but also a shot at President Trump himself. First, all public officials are now on notice that their interactions with constituents on social media platforms are likely limited, or designated, public forums and cannot be manipulated in a way as to suppress critical opinions on government policies. Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites may have the technological tools to block or mute followers but using these options to bar opposing viewpoints and critical opinions from important and relevant discussions on social media will likely no longer be permitted. This will prevent public officials from having a slanted and incomplete view on how their policies are being received by the public.

And lastly, Judge Buchwald’s memorandum and order that categorized Trump’s Twitter account as a limited, or designated, public forum sends a message to President Trump that he cannot selectively pick, based on their substantive content, which users and followers will have their positions and viewpoints shown in his Twitter account. Every critical tweet and disapproving reply to his own tweets is an opportunity for this President and this country to hear the concerns and opinions of any citizen who chooses to engage with him on his Twitter account. By trying to block users and suppress their critical tweets to him, this President chose to try to quash legitimate criticisms of him and elevate other viewpoints that he viewed, in his eyes, as much more worthy. It was a simple case of trying to censor viewpoints that President Trump did not agree with. Hopefully Judge Buchwald’s order will put an end to these tactics undertaken by this President who cannot handle legitimate criticism. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Resistance Resources:

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) – blogpost discussing government officials blocking users prior to the recent court decision against President Trump.

Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University – institute defending freedom of speech and press in the digital age and a plaintiff in the lawsuit against President Trump and his Twitter account.

First Amendment Coalition – non – profit group defending free speech and the public’s right to know.

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org

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