MANHATTAN (CN) — Moving quickly in court against the president’s itchy Twitter fingers, seven of his pugnacious social media critics called Tuesday for a federal injunction that will let them follow Donald Trump’s personal account after he blocked them.
“Defendants’ ongoing exclusion of plaintiffs from @realDonaldTrump imposes a continuing burden on plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights,” the 3-page legal brief by attorney Jameel Jaffer states.
“The burden is especially significant because it affects plaintiffs’ ability to access, reply to, and discuss the statements of the nation’s highest official,” the brief continues. “At the same time, the government plainly has no legitimate interest in protecting the president from criticism.”
Jaffer’s brief comes less than a month after his clients — the Columbia University-based Knight First Amendment Institute and seven academics, entertainers and political personalities — raised a groundbreaking question for a social-media age in a federal complaint.
Does Twitter qualify as a public forum where citizens have a constitutional right to engage with officials?
Jaffer concedes the question is novel, if only specifically for the medium.
“While public officials’ use of Twitter to engage with constituents is a relatively new phenomenon, it is well-settled that a public forum may consist of a metaphysical space rather than a physical one,” his Aug. 8 brief states.
Just this past June in the case Packingham v. North Carolina, in which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a prohibition on sex offenders using Facebook and other sites, Justice Anthony Kennedy described social media as “perhaps the most powerful mechanisms available to a private citizen to make his or her voice heard.”
Department of Justice spokesman Ian Prior promised a swift response.
“This lawsuit has no merit and we will be filing responsive documents shortly,” he said in a statement.
Much has changed in the White House communications team within the few weeks since the lawsuit.
In addition to Trump, the July 11 complaint had named as defendants then-press secretary Sean Spicer and White House social media director Daniel Scavino.
Although Scavino still holds the same job title, Spicer has since been replaced by Anthony Scaramucci, who was fired within 11 days and is awaiting a replacement.