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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Trumps' Twitter blocking violates First Amendment

District court decision here. Eugene Volokh comments. I agree with the First Amendment analysis. While a public official can speak on his own, the dispute here is over an interactive part of Twitter and who gets to engage on those features.

After the jump, I consider several procedural points.

• The court did not rely on the "one good plaintiff" approach to standing. After finding that the four individual plaintiffs had standing, the court considered whether the Knight Foundation had standing on its own (based on wanting to read comments from one of the blocked individuals).

• The Court linked standing to Ex Parte Young and recognized that Young allowed for claims for prospective relief against federal officials as much as state officials. The latter can be based on § 1983 while the former are based on the judicially created equitable claim. But the precedents overlap.

• The big standing issue involved Trump's aide Daniel Scavino, who has the power to control access to the account (including blocking or unblocking users), but did not block the individual plaintiffs. But the plaintiffs remained injured so long as blocked. Because Scavino could unblock, their ongoing injury was traceable to him.

• The court discussed whether the President or Scavino were state actors in managing the account, although the analysis was buried in the public-forum analysis. By contrast, in Davis v. Loudon County Board of Supervisors, involving a local official blocking members of the public from her Facebook page, the court focused on state action.

• The court gave a lengthy discussion of whether a court can enjoin the President. It rejected the categorical argument that the President cannot be enjoined, acknowledged that courts must hesitate and balance separation-of-powers concerns, and found that an injunction here would only compel the President to act constitutionally without interfering with executive discretion. The court declined to resolve the issue, because an injunction against Scavino and a declaratory judgment offered sufficient relief. (The court's decision to issue only declaratory relief without an injunction highlights a point Sam Bray made--declaratory relief is a sufficient remedy where limited judicial oversight or management is necessary).

• The court's decision not to issue an injunction deprived it of an opportunity to make the injunction universal and prohibit Trump and/or Scavino from blocking anyone from his Twitter account, in a case in which such a non-particularized remedy is unwarranted. But this reminds us that a declaratory judgment should be as party-particularized as an injunction. If Trump or Scavino block people other than the plaintiffs from the account, they would not act inconsistent with the judgment and it would not alone be a basis for converting the D/J into an injunction. New Twitter users must sue to assert their own rights to their own judgments, regardless of whether the judgment is a declaration or an injunction.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on May 23, 2018 at 06:37 PM in Civil Procedure, First Amendment, Howard Wasserman | Permalink

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