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Federal judge rules that Trump can't block Twitter users from his account

A federal judge ruled that President Donald Trump cannot block Twitter users from his account. The suit argued that the president's Twitter account is a "public forum" under the Constitution and that blocking users was a violation of their First Amendment rights. (Saul Loeb/Getty Images)

A federal judge in New York ruled Wednesday that President Donald Trump cannot block critics from his Twitter account, CNN reported.

What's the backstory?

Last summer, the Knight Institute filed a lawsuit against the president and his aides on behalf of seven individuals who claimed Trump blocked them from his social media account after they criticized him on the platform.

The suit argued that the president's Twitter account @realDonaldTrump is a "public forum" under the Constitution and that blocking them was a violation of their First Amendment rights.

At a hearing in March, Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York urged the parties to resolve the matter outside the courtroom and suggested Trump could mute his critics instead of blocking them.

"Why are we here?" Buchwald asked at Wednesday's hearing. "Don't we have a solution that serves the interests of the plaintiffs, serves the interests of the president?"

But some of the plaintiffs weren't on board with the judge's idea, which is why they ended up back in court.

What did the judge say?

Buchwald ruled that "no government official — including the president — is above the law, and all government officials are presumed to follow the law as has been declared."

"We hold that portions of the @realDonaldTrump account — the 'interactive space' where Twitter users may directly engage with the content of the President's tweets — are properly analyzed under the "'public forum' doctrines set forth by the Supreme Court, that such space is a designated public forum, and that the blocking of the plaintiffs based on their political speech constitutes viewpoint discrimination that violates the First Amendment," she wrote in her decision.

The judge dismissed White House press secretary Sarah Sanders and former White House communications director Hope Hicks as defendants in the suit.

What did the Knight Institute say?

The Knight Institute released a statement following the judge's decision.

“We’re pleased with the court’s decision, which reflects a careful application of core First Amendment principles to government censorship on a new communications platform,” Knight Institute’s Executive Director Jameel Jaffer said. “The president’s practice of blocking critics on Twitter is pernicious and unconstitutional, and we hope this ruling will bring it to an end.”

“The First Amendment prohibits government officials from suppressing speech on the basis of viewpoint,” Knight Institute lawyer Katie Fallow said. “The court’s application of that principle here should guide all of the public officials who are communicating with their constituents through social media.”

Fallow represented the plaintiffs in the case.

What did the Justice Department say?

The Justice Department argued that Trump has a right to choose who he spends time with on social media, contending that muting is within the president's "associational freedoms."

"We respectfully disagree with the court's decision and are considering our next steps," a Justice Department spokeswoman said, according to CNN.

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