By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. free speech group on Friday asked President Donald Trump to unblock 41 Twitter users after a federal judge in May ordered him to restore access to a group of individuals who filed suit.
U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald in Manhattan ruled on May 23 that comments on the president’s account, and those of other government officials, were public forums and that blocking Twitter Inc users for their views violated their right to free speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University on Friday sent the Justice Department a list of 41 accounts that remain blocked from Trump’s @RealDonaldTrump account. The seven users who filed suit had their accounts unblocked in June.
“As the district court has held, the First Amendment prohibits the president from blocking Twitter users simply because they’ve criticized him,” said Katie Fallow, senior staff attorney at the Knight Institute.
The White House did not immediately comment on Friday.
The blocked users include a film producer, screenwriter, photographer and author. “It appears to us that all or nearly all of these individuals were blocked from the @RealDonaldTrump account because they criticized President Trump or his policies,” the group said Friday.
The group said the list was not comprehensive.
Trump has made his Twitter account, with 53.7 million followers, an integral and controversial part of his presidency, using it to promote his agenda, announce policy and attack critics. He has blocked many critics, preventing them from directly responding to his tweets.
The Justice Department said in an appeal filed on Tuesday that the ruling was “fundamentally misconceived.”
The appeal said Trump’s account “belongs to Donald Trump in his personal capacity and is subject to his personal control, not the control of the government.”
The appeal compared Trump’s actions to a presidential address by John F. Kennedy at his Cape Cod home. “It plainly would not violate the First Amendment for him to exclude certain members of the public from his own property because they had previously criticized him,” the Justice Department said.
Buchwald rejected the argument that Trump’s First Amendment rights allowed him to block people with whom he did not wish to interact.
Trump could “mute” users, meaning he would not see their tweets while they could still respond to his, she said, without violating their free speech rights.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Richard Chang)