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Federal appeals court rules say Trump cannot block his critics on Twitter

President Trump has been violating the Constitution by blocking people from following his Twitter account because they criticized or mocked him, a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday. The ruling could have broader implications for how the First Amendment applies to the social-media era.
Because Mr. Trump uses Twitter to conduct government business, he cannot exclude some Americans from reading his posts — and engaging in conversations in the replies to them — because he does not like their views, a three-judge panel on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, ruled unanimously.
The ruling was one of the highest-profile court decisions yet in a growing constellation of cases addressing what the First Amendment means in a time when political expression increasingly takes place online. It is also a time, Judge Barrington D. Parker wrote, when government conduct is subject to a “wide-open, robust debate” that “generates a level of passion and intensity the likes of which have rarely been seen.”
The First Amendment prohibits an official who uses a social media account for government purposes from excluding people from an “otherwise open online dialogue” because they say things that the official finds objectionable, Judge Parker wrote.
“This debate, as uncomfortable and as unpleasant as it frequently may be, is nonetheless a good thing,” the judge wrote. “In resolving this appeal, we remind the litigants and the public that if the First Amendment means anything, it means that the best response to disfavored speech on matters of public concern is more speech, not less.”
The Justice Department expressed disappointment in the ruling but said officials had not yet decided whether to appeal to the full appeals court or the Supreme Court.
“We are disappointed with the court’s decision and are exploring possible next steps,” said Kelly Laco, a department spokeswoman. “As we argued, President Trump’s decision to block users from his personal Twitter account does not violate the First Amendment.”
But Jameel Jaffer, the director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, which represented a group of Twitter users who were blocked by Mr. Trump and filed the lawsuit, praised the ruling. He said that public officials’ social-media accounts are among the most significant forums for the public to discuss government policy.
“The ruling will ensure that people aren’t excluded from these forums simply because of their viewpoints and that public officials don’t transform these digital spaces into echo chambers,” Mr. Jaffer said. “It will help ensure the integrity and vitality of digital spaces that are increasingly important to our democracy.”