Several plaintiffs, including an outspoken anti-Donald Trump Duke alumnus and a University of Maryland sociology professor, “won” a lawsuit against President Trump this week.
The suit alleged that Trump’s blocking people on Twitter violated their First Amendment rights. U. Maryland’s Philip Cohen had expressed “shock” that the president had blocked him, despite Cohen tweeting things to him like “Corrupt Incompetent Authoritarian,” and that it’s “’surreal’ that Trump is personally blocking people ‘with his own fat little thumbs.’”
“Prominent” Twitter figure Eugene Gu, a Duke School of Medicine graduate, believes he was blocked after tweeting about Trump’s spelling “carelessness”:
Covfefe: The same guy who doesn't proofread his Twitter handles the nuclear button.
— Eugene Gu, MD (@eugenegu) June 18, 2017
The violation, Buchwald reasoned, is not that blocking keeps the blocked from seeing Trump’s tweets—8-year-olds know how to see tweets from someone who has blocked them—but that it keeps them from replying on Twitter. That doesn’t mean Trump has to be able to see the replies, either. He can remain blissfully ignorant of his critics’ existence. But when a president speaks to the world, she held, the First Amendment preserves the right of any person to make known their dissent. In Twitter terms, it is the process of replying to his tweets—and then replying to people who reply to replies and so ad infinitum—that implicates the First Amendment right to speak to others on matters of public importance.
Buchwald’s decision makes some new law, and is sure to be appealed; indeed, she issued her opinion as a “declaratory judgment,” which is a binding statement of the law as it affects the two parties but which does not include an injunction directing any specific person to do anything, perhaps in order to avoid a messy confrontation while appeals are heard.
Apparently, the judge missed the fact that eight-year-olds also know how to respond to tweets by those who have blocked them. Cohen had acknowledged such, and surely Gu, a medical student, realizes it; however, their feelings were hurt:
“I recognize I don’t have to climb Mount Everest to get around the [president’s] block, but it is inconvenient and I think [Trump and his staff are] making it a hassle for me because of my political views,” Cohen said.
“I felt very much excluded. I would rather not have been blocked and to participate in the public forum than to get a momentary flash of pride for getting the president’s attention.”
Indeed, to borrow Cohen’s analogy, the “inconvenience” and “exclusion” of getting around a Twitter block is more akin to climbing an ant hill.
Speaking of controversial tweets, Gu had gained fame (and infamy) when he tweeted of photo of himself kneeling to protest white supremacy. That pic resulted in being put on paid leave from the Vanderbilt Medical Center after a patient complained.