White House calls on Supreme Court to rule on Trump's Twitter blocking

This could be the last step in a protracted legal battle.

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Twitter feed of the President of the USA Donald Trump is seen displayed on a phone screen with American flag in the background in this illustration photo taken on August 2, 2020. President of the USA Donald Trump said that Chinese app TikTok will be banned in the United States. (Photo Illustration by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
NurPhoto via Getty Images

President Trump wants to settle the legal debate around the constitutionality of blocking critics on Twitter for good. Earlier this morning, the White House officially petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn a decision handed down by an appeals court earlier this year, which found that the president's Twitter-blocking tendencies were in violation of the First Amendment.

"The decision of the court of appeals warrants this Court’s review," the petition reads. "By ignoring the critical distinction between the President’s (sometimes) official statements on Twitter and his always personal decision to block respondents from his own account, the opinion blurs the line between state action and private conduct." The petition goes on to reiterate the administration's earlier stance at length, claiming among other things that the president used a Twitter feature "available equally" to everyone, so his actions were not "fairly attributable to the State".

The case was first filed by Columbia University's Knight First Amendment Institute in July 2017, and has since kicked off both a protracted legal battle and a wider conversation about the nature of the president's Twitter account. About a year later, Judge Naomi Buchwald of New York's Southern District ruled that President Trump's ceaseless stream of tweets and the conversations around it constitute a "public forum" -- as a result, users blocked by the president as a result of participating in those conversations legally amounted to curtailing their right to free speech. That interpretation was later upheld by an appellate court in New York despite further protest from the president, and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals declined to review the case again earlier this year after a majority of judges deemed it unnecessary.

The number of court decisions ruling against President Trump in this case would seem to make the legality of this situation pretty straightforward, and some are already calling on the highest court in the land to uphold those earlier decisions.

"This case stands for a principle that is fundamental to our democracy and basically synonymous with the First Amendment: government officials can’t exclude people from public forums simply because they disagree with their political views,” said Jameel Jaffer, executive director of the Knight Institute, in a statement. “The Supreme Court should reject the White House’s petition and leave the appeals court’s careful and well-reasoned decision in place.”

Even so, the ideological slant of the Supreme Court's current iteration may work in President Trump's favor. It'll be some time before we learn what they have to say, though: The court will remain out of session until October 5, and hasn't officially taken on the case yet as a result.

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