Knight First Amendment Inst. At Columbia Univ. v. Trump, 17 Civ. 5205 (NRB)

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
Writing for the CourtNAOMI REICE BUCHWALD, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Citation302 F.Supp.3d 541
Parties KNIGHT FIRST AMENDMENT INSTITUTE AT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, Rebecca Buckwalter, Philip Cohen, Holly Figueroa, Eugene Gu, Brandon Neely, Joseph Papp, and Nicholas Pappas, Plaintiffs, v. Donald J. TRUMP, Hope Hicks, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Daniel Scavino, Defendants.
Docket Number17 Civ. 5205 (NRB)
Decision Date23 May 2018

302 F.Supp.3d 541

KNIGHT FIRST AMENDMENT INSTITUTE AT COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, Rebecca Buckwalter, Philip Cohen, Holly Figueroa, Eugene Gu, Brandon Neely, Joseph Papp, and Nicholas Pappas, Plaintiffs,
v.
Donald J. TRUMP, Hope Hicks, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Daniel Scavino, Defendants.

17 Civ. 5205 (NRB)

United States District Court, S.D. New York.

Signed May 23, 2018


302 F.Supp.3d 549

Alexander Abraham Abdo, Katherine Amy Fallow, Knight First Amendement Institute at Columbia University, Jameel Jaffer, American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, New York, NY, Jessica Ring Amunson, Tassity S. Johnson, Jenner & Block, LLP, Washington, DC, for Plaintiffs.

Michael Hendry Baer, Daniel Halainen, U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Division, Washington, DC, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

NAOMI REICE BUCHWALD, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

This case requires us to consider whether a public official may, consistent with the First Amendment, "block" a person from his Twitter account in response to the political views that person has expressed, and whether the analysis differs because that public official is the President of the United States. The answer to both questions is no.

Our analysis proceeds as follows. We first set forth the background facts regarding Twitter as a platform, the @realDonaldTrump account that is the center of this dispute, the plaintiffs, and this case's procedural history. Because defendants object to our adjudication of this case based on plaintiffs' lack of standing, we then turn—as we must—to the consideration of those jurisdictional arguments. We conclude that the plaintiffs have established the prerequisites to our jurisdiction: they have experienced a legally cognizable injury, those injuries are traceable to the President and Daniel Scavino's conduct, and a favorable judicial decision on the merits is likely to redress those injuries.

We then proceed to the substance of plaintiffs' First Amendment claims. We hold that portions of the @realDonaldTrump account—the "interactive space" where Twitter users may directly engage with the content of the President's tweets—are properly analyzed under the "public forum" doctrines set forth by the Supreme Court, that such space is a designated public forum, and that the blocking of the plaintiffs based on their political speech constitutes viewpoint discrimination that violates the First Amendment. In so holding, we reject the defendants' contentions that the First Amendment does not apply in this case and that the President's personal First Amendment interests supersede those of plaintiffs.

Finally, we consider what form of relief should be awarded, as plaintiffs seek both declaratory relief and injunctive relief. While we reject defendants' categorical assertion that injunctive relief cannot ever be awarded against the President, we nonetheless conclude that it is unnecessary to enter that legal thicket at this time. A declaratory judgment should be sufficient, as no government official—including the President—is above the law, and all government officials are presumed to follow the law as has been declared.

I. Background

The facts presented below are drawn almost entirely from the stipulation of facts between the parties, see Stipulation, Sept. 28, 2017, ECF No. 30–1, which "applies

302 F.Supp.3d 550

exclusively to this litigation and does not constitute an admission for purposes of any other proceeding," Stip. at 1.1

A. The Twitter Platform

"Twitter is a social media platform with more than 300 million active users worldwide, including some 70 million in the United States." Stip. ¶ 13. A " ‘user’ is an individual who has created an account on the platform." Stip. ¶ 14. "A Twitter user must have an account name, which is an @ symbol followed by a unique identifier (e.g., @realDonaldTrump), and a descriptive name (e.g., Donald J. Trump). The account name is called the user's ‘handle.’ " Stip. ¶ 16.

Twitter "allows users to post short messages," Stip. ¶ 13, which are called "tweets," Stip. ¶ 14. Tweets may be "up to [280] characters in length,"2 may "include photographs, videos, and links," and are posted "to a webpage on Twitter that is attached to the user's account." Stip. ¶ 14. "An individual ‘tweet’ comprises the tweeted content (i.e., the message, including any embedded photograph, video, or link), the user's account name (with a link to the user's Twitter webpage), the user's profile picture, the date and time the tweet was generated, and the number of times the tweet has been replied to ..., retweeted by ..., or liked by ... other users." Stip. ¶ 17.

The Twitter webpage that displays the collection of a user's tweets is known as the user's "timeline." Stip. ¶ 15. "When a user generates a tweet, the timeline updates immediately to include that tweet," and "[a]nyone who can view a user's Twitter webpage can see the user's timeline." Stip. ¶ 15. "A user's Twitter webpage may also include a short biographical description; a profile picture, such as a headshot; a ‘header’ image, which appears as a banner at the top of the webpage; the user's location; a button labeled ‘Message,’ which allows two users to correspond privately; and a small sample of photographs and videos posted to the user's timeline, which link to a full gallery." Stip. ¶ 16. "By default, Twitter webpages and their associated timelines are visible to everyone with internet access, including those who are not Twitter users. However, although non-users can view users' Twitter webpages (if the accounts are public), they cannot interact with users on the Twitter platform." Stip. ¶ 18.

A defining feature of Twitter is a user's ability "to repost or respond to others' messages, and to interact with other Twitter users in relation to those messages." Stip. ¶ 13. "Beyond posting tweets ..., Twitter users can engage with one another in a variety of ways." Stip. ¶ 21. First, "they can ‘retweet’—i.e., repost—the tweets of other users, either by posting them directly to their own followers or by ‘quoting’ them in their own tweets. When a user retweets a tweet, it appears on the user's timeline in the same form as it did on the original user's timeline, but with a notation indicating that the post was retweeted." Stip. ¶ 21. Second, "[a] Twitter user can also reply to other users' tweets. Like any other tweet, a reply can be up to [280] characters in length and can include photographs, videos, and links." Stip. ¶ 22. This reply may be viewed in two places:

302 F.Supp.3d 551

when a user sends a reply, "the reply appears on the user's timeline under a tab labeled ‘Tweets & replies.’ " However, the reply may also be accessed from the feed of the user sending the tweet being replied to: "by clicking on the tweet that prompted the reply[,] the reply will appear below the original tweet, along with other users' replies to the same tweet." Stip. ¶ 22. Third, "[a] Twitter user can also ‘favorite’ or ‘like’ another user's tweet by clicking on the heart icon that appears under the tweet. By ‘liking’ a tweet, a user may mean to convey approval or to acknowledge having seen the tweet." Stip. ¶ 24. Fourth, "[a] Twitter user can also ‘mention’ another user by including the other user's Twitter handle in a tweet. A Twitter user mentioned by another user will receive a ‘notification’ that he or she has been mentioned in another user's tweet." Stip. ¶ 25. Finally, "Twitter users can subscribe to other users' messages by ‘following’ those users' accounts. Users generally can see all tweets posted or retweeted by accounts they have followed." Stip. ¶ 19. "Tweets, retweets, replies, likes, and mentions are controlled by the user who generates them. No other Twitter user can alter the content of any retweet or reply, either before or after it is posted. Twitter users cannot prescreen tweets, replies, likes, or mentions that reference their tweets or accounts." Stip. ¶ 26.

Because a retweet or a reply to a tweet is itself a tweet, each retweet and reply, recursively, may be retweeted, replied to, or liked. "A Twitter user can also reply to other replies. A user whose tweet generates replies will see the replies below his or her original tweet, with any replies-to-replies nested below the replies to which they respond. The collection of replies and replies-to-replies is sometimes referred to as a ‘comment thread.’ " Stip. ¶ 23. "Twitter is called a ‘social’ media platform in large part because of comment threads, which reflect multiple overlapping ‘conversations’ among and across groups of users." Stip. ¶ 23.

In addition to these means of interaction, Twitter offers two means of limiting interaction with other users: blocking and muting. First, "[a] user who wants to prevent another user from interacting with her account on the Twitter platform can do so by ‘blocking’ that user. (Twitter provides users with the capability to block other users, but it is the users themselves who decide whether to make use of this capability.) When a user is signed in to a Twitter account that has been blocked, the blocked user cannot see or reply to the blocking user's tweets, view the blocking user's list of followers or followed accounts, or use the Twitter platform to search for the...

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45 practice notes
  • Davison v. Randall, No. 17-2002
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • January 7, 2019
    ...policy unilaterally, including through the use of social media. See, e.g., Knight First Amendment Inst. at Columbia Univ. v. Trump , 302 F.Supp.3d 541, 567 (S.D.N.Y. 2018) (discussing President Donald J. Trump’s use of his Twitter account to appoint and remove officers and conduct foreign p......
  • Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Wash. v. Trump, No. 18-474-cv
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • August 17, 2020
    ...the Fourth Circuit, unlike this court, put forward a rationale for its decision.18 See also Knight First Amendment Inst. v. Trump , 302 F. Supp. 3d 541, 579 (S.D.N.Y. 2018) (declining to "resolve the question of whether injunctive relief may be awarded against the President" and recognizing......
  • Dorce v. City of N.Y., Docket No. 20-1809-cv
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • June 23, 2021
    ...a certified class, are likely to suffer future interrogations by the Squad."); Knight First Amend. Inst. at Columbia Univ. v. Trump , 302 F. Supp. 3d 541, 558 (S.D.N.Y. 2018) ("[Plaintiffs’] future harms are ... virtually certain because the individual plaintiffs continue to be blocked."), ......
  • Black Lives Matter v. Town of Clarkstown, No. 17-cv-6592 (NSR)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • November 14, 2018
    ...presumptively entitled to protection under the First Amendment."); see also Knight First Amendment Inst. at Columbia Univ. v. Trump , 302 F.Supp.3d 541, 564–65 (S.D.N.Y. 2018) (holding that the plaintiffs had a First Amendment right to engage in political speech on social media). Similarly,......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
45 cases
  • Davison v. Randall, No. 17-2002
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • January 7, 2019
    ...policy unilaterally, including through the use of social media. See, e.g., Knight First Amendment Inst. at Columbia Univ. v. Trump , 302 F.Supp.3d 541, 567 (S.D.N.Y. 2018) (discussing President Donald J. Trump’s use of his Twitter account to appoint and remove officers and conduct foreign p......
  • Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Wash. v. Trump, No. 18-474-cv
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • August 17, 2020
    ...the Fourth Circuit, unlike this court, put forward a rationale for its decision.18 See also Knight First Amendment Inst. v. Trump , 302 F. Supp. 3d 541, 579 (S.D.N.Y. 2018) (declining to "resolve the question of whether injunctive relief may be awarded against the President" and recognizing......
  • Dorce v. City of N.Y., Docket No. 20-1809-cv
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • June 23, 2021
    ...a certified class, are likely to suffer future interrogations by the Squad."); Knight First Amend. Inst. at Columbia Univ. v. Trump , 302 F. Supp. 3d 541, 558 (S.D.N.Y. 2018) ("[Plaintiffs’] future harms are ... virtually certain because the individual plaintiffs continue to be blocked."), ......
  • Black Lives Matter v. Town of Clarkstown, No. 17-cv-6592 (NSR)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • November 14, 2018
    ...presumptively entitled to protection under the First Amendment."); see also Knight First Amendment Inst. at Columbia Univ. v. Trump , 302 F.Supp.3d 541, 564–65 (S.D.N.Y. 2018) (holding that the plaintiffs had a First Amendment right to engage in political speech on social media). Similarly,......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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