MANHATTAN (CN) — From New York to Texas, Twitter users blocked from reading Donald Trump’s personal feed filed a federal complaint Tuesday alleging that they have a constitutional right to read the president’s tweets.
Leading the charge against Trump, Press Secretary Sean Spicer and the White House’s social media director, Daniel Scavino, is the Knight First Amendment Institute, a Columbia University-based organization that launched last year on a $60 million grant.
Seven men and women blocked by the president are joining the nonprofit group in the Southern District of New York.
They are political consultant Rebecca Buckwalter, University of Maryland sociology professor Philip Cohen, Grammy-nominated songwriter Holly Figueroa, Vanderbilt University Medical Center surgeon Eugene Gu, former Guantanamo Bay prison guard Brandon Neely, retired professional cyclist Joseph Papp and comic Nicholas Pappas.
Most of them verified on Twitter, they are outspoken about their views about the 45th president of the United States.
Cohen’s pinned tweet announcing his lawsuit cheekily states: “See you in court, Mr. President,” above an image of Trump labeled as “Corrupt,” “Incompetent,” and “Authoritarian” in bright and capitalized yellow letters.
Neely, who has become a vocal anti-torture advocate, has a picture of a hooded detainee in an orange jumpsuit on his Twitter wallpaper. It wasn’t his activism to close Guantanamo’s prisons, however, that got him blocked.
After a coal mine opened up in Pennsylvania, Neely wrote: “Congrats and now black lung won’t be covered under #TrumpCare.”
The post received 3,334 likes and 341 retweets. Trump blocked him the next day, after which Neely noticed that Trump also shut out the advocacy group VoteVets.
“Looks like he is blocking all veterans,” Neely tweeted on June 13. “Blocked me as well.”
Boasting a 500,000-person strong membership, VoteVets is not a party to the lawsuit.
On June 18, Gu tweeted: “Covfefe: The same guy who doesn’t proofread his Twitter handles the nuclear button.” The complaint says Trump blocked him two hours later.
Tuesday’s lawsuit falls just weeks after the Supreme Court majority affirmed the power of social media in the case of Packingham v. North Carolina, overturning a prohibition on sex offenders using Facebook and other sites.
In the words of the majority, Facebook and Twitter provide “perhaps the most powerful mechanisms available to a private citizen to make his or her voice heard.”
The Knight First Amendment Institute quotes those words to argue that the case is about the power to clamp down on dissent and control information.
“President Trump’s Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, has become an important source of news and information about the government, and an important public forum for speech by, to, and about the president,” the 25-page complaint begins. “In an effort to suppress dissent in this forum, defendants have excluded — ‘blocked’ — Twitter users who have criticized the President or his policies.This practice is unconstitutional, and this suit seeks to end it.”
Jameel Jaffer, formerly with the American Civil Liberties Union, is the lead attorney for the Knight First Amendment Institute.
“The First Amendment applies to this digital forum in the same way it applies to town halls and open school board meetings,” Jaffer said in a statement. “The White House acts unlawfully when it excludes people from this forum simply because they’ve disagreed with the president.”
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.