A federal judge in NY ruled Wednesday that U.S. President Donald Trump may not legally block Twitter users because doing so violates their rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. "The answer to both questions is no".
"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", said Jameel Jaffer, executive director of Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, which had filed the lawsuit on behalf of the group.
The seven users had each tweeted a message critical of the president before they were blocked.
She said Trump could "mute" users, meaning he would not see their tweets while they could still respond to his, without violating their free speech rights.
President Trump and the other defendants conceded they did so because they disliked the viewpoints the plaintiffs expressed in their tweets.
"In sum, we conclude that the interactive space associated with each of the President's tweets is not government speech and is properly analyzed under the Supreme Court's forum precedents", the judge states.
A federal court ruling that President Trump's practice of blocking critics on Twitter is unconstitutional could have a ripple effect from the White House to town halls across the country and accelerate challenges to restrictions by public officials on other social media.
The judge declined to order Trump to unblock users, saying her decision should be sufficient to force a change in behaviour.
When Gu was blocked, he said that he didn't feel pride like some Twitter users do when they are blocked.
The Trump case is a little bit different because Twitter doesn't give anyone the ability to post comments directly on Trump's Twitter page.
Attorneys for the Justice Department had argued that the only public Twitter forum for President Trump was the official @POTUS account, citing the fact the @realDonaldTrump handle, which he more frequently uses, was created years ago when he was a private citizen. "If that's the case, the government doesn't get to pick and choose who is allowed in".
As such, he is breaking the First Amendment on free speech by preventing people from being able to see his posts, responses to his posts, or contact him over the service - if they are logged in to Twitter. She said the First Amendment protects people even from trivial harm.
It is not clear how many people Mr. Trump has blocked, but online tallies list some of the names: author Stephen King, anti-Trump activist Holly Figueroa O'Reilly and Daily Kos editor Rebecca Pilar Buckwalter Poza, who was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
Citing school uniforms as an example of how institutions deter students from wearing provocative or political clothing, Mitchell added that a ruling made in a district court does not set a legal precedent.