Latest posts by Nancy Thorner and Ed Ingold (see all)
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As reported recently in the Los Angeles, Twitter users are claiming their 1st Amendment rights were violated after they were blocked from reading Trump’s personal account (@realDonaldTrump, not the official @POTUS account) after criticizing him on his policies.
In response, Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of seven Twitter users who say their rights were violated. The suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York in Manhattan, names Trump, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and White House director of social media Dan Scavino as defendants.
President Trump, in defending his use of Twitter, says “he’s redefining the American presidency, describing his use of social media as ‘modern day presidential’ and necessary to fight what he deems fake news.”
Although the lawsuit alleges President Trump violated 1st Amendment by blocking U.S. citizens on Twitter, the First Amendment says nothing about the right to READ, only the right to publish or express your views. By the same measure, neither is there any Constitutional requirement for others to listen.
A careful reading of the First Amendment reveals, in just 45 words, that it protects several basic liberties — freedom of religion, speech, press, petition, and assembly. Interpretation of the amendment is far from easy, as court case after court case has tried to define the limits of these freedoms:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Yet those words embody some of our most important ideas about the meaning of liberty. Remove the First Amendment from the United States Constitution and you strike out the very means of testing the other rights and of protesting abuses of government.
The First Amendment thereby functions as a constraint on the power of government. However, Twitter is a private company, and the First Amendment does not limit their right to limit access to their forum, including protection of certain rights to privacy, including the right to exclude certain correspondents.
By analogy, a newspaper is not obliged to publish anything not sanctioned by their editorial staff, although most allow some access through “letters to the editor.” Even that privilege is subject to editing or rejection.
The alt-Left interprets the First Amendment as the right to silence opposing points of view and interfere with their right to conduct their lives and business. That is wrong, and it’s time to take steps to correct it.
Among other things, there should be no anonymity in public protests. Wearing of masks or other face coverings at a rally should be a misdemeanor, and if while carrying a weapon, a felony. That’s already true in a handful of states, including Florida.
There is likewise no right to blockade streets and businesses. Since this is a fundamental tool of labor unions, it is unlikely that Democrats would be on board with punitive measures.
It would therefore be appropriate for the court to reject the Knight First Amendment Institute suit as frivolous, require the plaintiffs to pay for the defendants’ legal costs and possibly a civil penalty, and institute disbarment proceedings against their attorneys, who should know better.
What’s next? Are we obliged under the Constitution to answer the hundreds of junk phone calls we get each week?
[Originally Published at Illinois Review]