WASHINGTON — The White House has unblocked the accounts of seven Twitter users who sued President Trump for barring them from viewing or responding to his tweets, even as the administration has decided to appeal a federal judge’s ruling in May that Mr. Trump violated their constitutional rights.
The decision to unblock the plaintiffs from interacting with Mr. Trump’s account was a gesture of constitutional modesty by the Trump administration at a time when he and his lawyers have been making increasingly aggressive assertions of executive powers. The judge had not ordered the president to unblock them as part of the ruling, instead leaving it up to the White House to decide how to respond to her ruling.
Late on Monday, the Justice Department informed the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, which is representing the plaintiffs, that it had unblocked their accounts. But around the same time, the department filed notice in court that it was appealing the ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York.
Jameel Jaffer, the executive director of the Knight Institute, said the organization looked forward to defending the May ruling, by Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald of the Southern District of New York, before the appeals court.
“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,” he said in a statement.
The case centers on novel issues raised by how the First Amendment applies to social media platforms used by government officials to interact with the public. The seven plaintiffs are Twitter users who were blocked from viewing or interacting with Mr. Trump’s account, @realdonaldtrump, after criticizing or mocking him.
The plaintiffs argued that Mr. Trump’s account amounted to a public forum — a “digital town hall” — in which the president makes official policy pronouncements and the public, by responding to his postings and to the tweets other people make in reply to them, engages in debate. That makes his decision to selectively block people from participating in that forum based on views they have expressed unconstitutional, they maintained.
The Justice Department argued that Mr. Trump operated the account in his personal capacity, so blocking people who irritated him did not implicate their constitutional rights.
But Judge Buchwald, who was appointed in 1999 by President Bill Clinton, sided with the plaintiffs, saying that he was using the account to take actions in his official capacity as president.
“The viewpoint-based exclusion of the individual plaintiffs from that designated public forum is proscribed by the First Amendment and cannot be justified by the president’s personal First Amendment interests,” she wrote.
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