NEW YORK -- President Donald Trump's tweets may be official statements, but blocking some followers of his Twitter account is strictly personal, government lawyers argued in seeking to dismiss a lawsuit by a nonprofit group claiming the move violates the Constitution.
The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University sued the president and members of his staff in federal court in Manhattan last summer on behalf of seven Twitter users who said they were blocked by Trump after replying to his Tweets. Their speech is protected because the account is a public forum that is open to discourse, they claim.
During a hearing in Manhattan on Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael H. Baer urged U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald to throw out the suit, saying that Twitter is more like a convention where an official can pick and choose whom they interact with.
"When you're blocking them from an account you're not blocking them from a place where individuals can interact with other individuals," Baer said.
Katherine Fallow, a lawyer for plaintiffs, asked Buchwald to force Trump to unblock the seven users, saying that blocking them constitutes a government action because the president operates in his official capacity while using Twitter and employs White House staff to help him administer the account.
"He is operating it like a virtual town hall," Fallow said. "Blocking it is a state action and violates the First Amendment. This is an official account and it is being used as a forum for speech."
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Buchwald declined to immediately rule, but urged both sides to come up with a resolution outside of court. The judge suggested Trump could mute accounts he doesn't want to see, rather than blocking followers.
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