Lawyers: Trump's Twitter Account Not Presidential; Also: Trump Is President, Can't Be Sued
from the block-chain dept
A lawsuit filed against President Trump alleges a host of First Amendment violations stemming from Trump’s Twitter blocklist. According to the suit filed by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, an official government account shouldn’t be allowed to block users from reading tweets. Sure, there’s an actual official presidential Twitter account, but nothing of interest happens there. Everything from retweets of questionable GIFs to arguable threats of nuclear war happen at Donald Trump’s personal account. But everything’s all mixed together because the president insists on using his personal account (and its blocklist) to communicate a majority of his thoughts and opinions.
The government’s lawyers are now forced to defend the president (and his blocklist) from these allegations. It’s not an easy job. In fact, as Alison Frankel reports, it requires a significant amount of cognitive dissonance.
First, the government has argued the Twitter account President Trump uses most is not a publicly-owned (read: government) Twitter account.
The brief’s primary argument is that @realdonaldtrump is not a public forum. It’s a private platform governed by the rules of a private company, the Justice Department said. The president opened his account before he was an elected official, the brief said, and his continued operation of the account is not a right conferred by his election to the presidency. “The president does not operate his personal Twitter account by virtue of federal law, nor is blocking made possible because the President is clothed in Article II powers,” the brief said.
This makes some sense, even if Trump’s use of this account to announce positions on issues and potential government action undermine the “not a public forum” argument. He did have this account prior to the presidency, but perhaps he should have abandoned it for the official presidential account once he took office. Even though this argument is somewhat credible, the next argument from the government almost completely undermines it.
President Trump, in other words, is not flexing his presidential power when he tweets as @realdonaldtrump, according to the Justice Department. But at the same time, Justice argued in the summary judgment brief, the president can’t be sued for posting to his private account because he’s acting as the president.
He’s not the president (so to speak) when he tweets from his personal account. But he is the president, so he can’t be sued. No matter how many accounts he blocks. The president, according to White House counsel, is able to occupy two states simultaneously thanks to the magical powers of Twitter.
It sounds ridiculous (and it is), but as Frankel points out, seemingly contradictory arguments are made all the time at this point in the pleadings. The judge is one that decides which arguments move forward — sometimes even without calling out lawyers for arguing against their own arguments.
Stripping the case of all legalese, the account Trump prefers to use should be considered an official account. And if it’s an official account, Trump needs to lay off the “block” button. You can’t force citizens to jump through hoops to view proclamations made in a de facto public square. Even if Trump can’t be sued, he should at least lift the blocks. It’s not very presidential to pointedly lock certain people out of public discussions.