A federal appeals court’s ruling that President Donald J. Trump may not block people on Twitter cites a precedent-setting lawsuit against Loudoun County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) decided earlier this year.
A three-judge panel from the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled unanimously Tuesday that because Trump uses his Twitter account for government business—often announcing policy, arguing politics or haranguing other users and world leaders to his nearly 62 million followers—he cannot block other Twitter users from accessing his social media feed. He had been sued after doing so.
Included in the 29-page opinion is a mention of Davison v. Randall, the federal case in which Randall was sued for blocking Brian Davison from her “Chair Phyllis J. Randall” Facebook page, where he had posted allegations of conflicts of interest by School Board members and their families. Randall deleted the post and blocked him to prevent him from making additional postings. She then unblocked him the next day.
Another federal appeals court reached the same decision in that case, affirming a lower court’s ruling that Randall was acting “under color of state law” in running that Facebook page, in deleting Davison’s comment and in banning Davison from the page.
“Randall’s decision to ban Davison because of his allegation of governmental corruption constitutes black-letter viewpoint discrimination,” wrote Judge James A. Wynn Jr. in the court’s ruling. “Put simply, Randall unconstitutionally sought to ‘suppress’ Davison’s opinion that there was corruption on the School Board.”
Subsequently, Randall said comments would no longer be allowed on that page at all, although today they are.
The case drew national attention as one of the first to delve into murky First Amendment questions online, and in their ruling, the three-judge panel in Randall’s case also contemplated—but did not answer—other quandaries, such as conflicts between First Amendment protections against government censorship online and the possibly stricter content regulations of the private online forums being used.
“We are disappointed with the court’s decision and are exploring possible next steps,” Department of Justice spokesperson Kelly Laco said in a statement after the Trump ruling.