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Colo. newspaper advocate hails ruling on Trump Twitter blocks

Author: Marianne Goodland - May 23, 2018 - Updated: May 30, 2018

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This 2017 file photo shows U.S. President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed on a computer screen in Washington. President Donald Trump violates the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment when he blocks critics on Twitter for political speech, a judge ruled May 23. (AP Photo/J. David Ake, File)

Wednesday’s federal court ruling saying it’s unconstitutional for President Donald Trump to block his critics on Twitter cheers the head of a trade and advocacy group representing Colorado newspapers.

It isn’t so much about politics but about the concept of freedom of speech, Jerry Raehal, CEO of the Colorado Press Association, told Colorado Politics Wednesday.

“It’s about the ability for citizens of the United States to speak for or against government action,” Raehal explained. “If politicians are utilizing Twitter accounts for political purposes, that is a forum where people should be able to speak.”

The ruling from U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald in Manhattan said that it violates the constitution for Trump and his communications staff to block critics on Twitter just because he or they disagree with the political views espoused by his detractors.

Buchwald’s “declaratory judgment” stopped short of ordering Trump and his staff to stop blocking critics, but the judge did say: “No government official — including the president — is above the law, and all government officials are presumed to follow the law as has been declared.”

Buchwald in her ruling declared that Trump’s @realDonaldTrump Twitter account, with over 50 million followers, is presented as a “presidential account as opposed to a personal account.”

Raehal said that if citizens can’t weigh in on a politician’s speech when that politician is talking policy, it’s not only detrimental to government input but to the discussion of our country as a whole.

Raehal called political discussions on Twitter akin to holding a rally, and in blocking people it’s like telling those who are opposed to the rally’s speaker that they should leave.

“Twitter is a public forum,” he said, adding he hopes politicians will look at the latest ruling and agree with it.

In Colorado, at least two Republican state senators have banned people from their social media accounts.

Sen. Ray Scott of Grand Junction earned himself an ethics complaint last year from several Grand Junction Democrats who said he had blocked them from his Facebook page. Senate President Kevin Grantham of Cañon City later dismissed the complaint, according to the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.

Scott told Colorado Politics his rule of thumb is to block people who are profane or inappropriate. But people disagree with him all the time, he said and he doesn’t block them from Facebook.

One of the complainants, Martin Wiesiolek, reacted to the court decision with news of his own:

And Colorado state Sen. Randy Baumgardner of Hot Sulphur Springs has blocked at least five members of the media from seeing his Twitter account in the past two months, this reporter included, after media outlets posted stories about sexual harassment allegations against him that linked to his Twitter handle, @CapitalCowboy.

Wednesday’s ruling doesn’t apply in Colorado since the Centennial State is part of a separate federal court district.

The case involving Trump was filed last July by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and seven named plaintiffs against Trump, then-communications director Hope Hicks; Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the president’s spokesperson, and Dan Scavino, the White House director of social media.

In March, Judge Buchwald recommended Trump mute his critics rather than block them. That way, he wouldn’t see their comments but they would still be able to see what he posts. According to The Hill, Trump’s former spokesman Sean Spicer has called Trump’s tweets official statements.

Trump frequently uses his Twitter account to make official statements on administration policy, such as announcing he would meet next month with North Korean President Kim Jong Un, or announcing a ban on transgender persons from serving in the military.

The ruling is the third such decision in the past year on whether elected officials can block people from their social media accounts.

Last July, the U.S. District Court for eastern Virginia ruled similarly that an elected county official could not block someone from her Facebook account. But a different judge on the same court ruled the exact opposite three days later, in a case filed by the same plaintiff against the local school board, which also had blocked the plaintiff from the school board members’ Facebook pages.

In at least three states — Kentucky, Maine and Maryland — Americans for Civil Liberties are suing those governors  for blocking people from their social media accounts.

 

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.