June 5, 2018 / 1:42 AM / 2 months ago

U.S. appeals against ruling that Trump could not block Twitter followers

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department said on Monday it would appeal against a federal judge’s ruling that President Donald Trump may not legally block Twitter users from his account on the social media platform based on their political views, according to a court filing.

FILE PHOTO: The masthead of U.S. President Donald Trump's @realDonaldTrump Twitter account is seen on July 11, 2017. @realDonaldTrump/Handout via REUTERS

Jameel Jaffer, a lawyer for the seven plaintiffs who sued, said the @realDonaldTrump account had unblocked the seven plaintiffs on Monday.

“We’re pleased that the White House unblocked our clients from the President’s Twitter account but disappointed that the government intends to appeal the district court’s thoughtful and well-supported ruling,” Jaffer said in an email.

The White House did not comment immediately. A Justice Department spokeswoman confirmed the plaintiffs had been unblocked.

Trump has made his Twitter account - with more than 52 million followers - an integral and controversial part of his presidency, using it to promote his agenda, announce policy and attack critics. He has blocked many critics from his account, which prevents them from directly responding to his tweets.

U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald in Manhattan ruled on May 23 that comments on the president’s account, and those of other government officials, were public forums and that blocking Twitter users for their views violated their right to free speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Buchwald’s ruling was in response to a First Amendment lawsuit filed against Trump in July 2017 by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and several Twitter users.

The plaintiffs include Philip Cohen, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland, and Brandon Neely, a Texas police officer.

Cohen, who was blocked from Trump’s account a year ago, wrote on Twitter late Monday: “We whined. We complained. We sued. We won our First Amendment lawsuit in federal court. And now @realDonaldTrump has unblocked me. Wow!”

Neely tweeted at Trump after he was unblocked late Monday: “@realDonaldTrump 368 days and a win in court and now I AM BACK!!!”

Novelists Stephen King and Anne Rice, comedian Rosie O’Donnell, model Chrissy Teigen, actress Marina Sirtis and the military veterans political action committee VoteVets.org are among others who have said on Twitter that Trump blocked them.

Buchwald rejected the argument by Justice Department lawyers that Trump’s own First Amendment rights allowed him to block people with whom he did not wish to interact.

Trump could “mute” users, meaning he would not see their tweets while they could still respond to his, she said, without violating their free speech rights.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Sandra Maler, Leslie Adler and Paul Tait

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