Justice Dept. revives fight on Trump’s right to block on Twitter

By Matthew Choi

A federal court ruled President Donald Trump can’t block people on Twitter, but the Trump administration isn’t giving up that easily.

The Justice Department on Friday asked the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals to hear en banc a case challenging the president’s ability to block people on the platform.

A panel of judges from the court ruled last month that, because Trump uses his private Twitter account to announce policy and other issues of national importance, blocking users would exclude them from public discussion.

In its Friday court filing that requested a rehearing from all judges of the court, the Justice Department argued that because the @realDonaldTrump account is not owned by the federal government and has been operated by Trump in a personal capacity for years, the president can control who can have access to it.

“An official’s decision to exclude someone from his personal residence would not exercise the authority of the government, even if he were giving official statements on that property on that day,” the filing said. “And what is true for real property is likewise true for a social media account.”

The Justice Department declined to comment Friday afternoon.

The filing comes as part of a lawsuit brought by a group of Twitter users represented by Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute against Trump, his social media adviser Dan Scavino and former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. The court ruled at the time that the White House had referenced Trump’s Twitter account in an official capacity in the past and that public access to official communication channels was protected by the First Amendment.

In its Friday filing, the Justice Department argued that assumption would set a precedent that would mean all “public officials who address matters relating to their public office on personal accounts will run the risk that every action taken on that account will be state action subject to constitutional scrutiny.”

“The First Amendment does not warrant this type of judicial superintendence of personal social media accounts owned by public officials,” the filing said.

Trump has operated his Twitter account since 2009 — long before his presidency — and as president has routinely used it to announce major policy decisions and White House personnel changes to the public.

Josh Gerstein contributed to this report.