Washington, DC – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a lawsuit that claimed that President Donald Trump blocking critics on Twitter amounted to a violation of the First Amendment.
The case – which had been renamed Biden v. Knight First Amendment Institute – began when seven people who were blocked by President Trump filed a lawsuit complaining that the action was retaliation for criticizing him, NBC News reported.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York had ruled that President Trump could not block individual critics on Twitter because he used the forum to regularly communicate with the public, The Washington Post reported.
The appeals court said the now-former President’s account was like a public forum for official matters and also included content from White House staff, NBC News reported.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) under Trump’s administration asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the ruling because, although he sometimes made officials statements via the social media channel, all Twitter users were allowed to block other individual users.
The DoJ asked the Supreme Court to dismiss the case as moot and vacate the lower court rulings the night before President Joe Biden was inaugurated, NBC News reported.
The Knight Institute, the First Amendment advocacy group that represented the Twitter users blocked by President Trump, asked the justices not to vacate the lower court’s rulings.
“This case was about a very simple principle that is foundational to our democracy: Public officials can’t bar people from public forums simply because they disagree with them,” Jameel Jaffer, the Knight Institute’s executive director who argued the case before the Second Circuit, said. “While we would have liked the Supreme Court to leave the Second Circuit’s ruling on the books, we’re gratified that the appeals court’s reasoning has already been adopted by other courts, and we’re confident it will continue to shape the way that public officials use social media.”
While there were no dissents to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to dismiss the case and void the earlier decisions, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas wrote separately that the court would eventually have to examine the power of big tech media companies, The Washington Post reported.
Thomas wrote that it was “unprecedented” to have “control of so much speech in the hands of a few private parties. We will soon have no choice but to address how our legal doctrines apply to highly concentrated, privately owned information infrastructure such as digital platforms.”
He wrote that some aspects of former President Trump’s Twitter account “resemble a constitutionally protected public forum,” The Washington Post reported.
But Thomas said the bigger issue was the power of the social media platforms to remove users.
“If the aim is to ensure that speech is not smothered, then the more glaring concern must perforce be the dominant digital platforms themselves,” he wrote. “As Twitter made clear, the right to cut off speech lies most powerfully in the hands of private digital platforms.”
Twitter suspended President Trump’s account on Jan. 8, The Washington Post reported.