Throughout his term in office, President Donald Trump was hit with multiple court challenges and lawsuits by his opponents, including one based on his decision to block certain Twitter accounts from following and interacting with his profile.
While a judge ruled in favor of those plaintiffs several years ago, a new round of similar suits caused the Trump administration to challenge that decision — and it appears to have paid off for the former president.
SCOTUS dismisses claims
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the case should be sent back to an appeals court and considered moot, which represents a big win for Trump.
The case represents one of the final legal challenges of the prior administration before President Joe Biden was inaugurated in January. As for the underlying issue, Trump has faced court challenges dating back to 2017 related to his personal account blocking those who were deemed to be harassing the then-president online.
A small group of complainants argued that the president used the account in an official capacity and they should therefore be able to view each of the “official statements” originating therein.
New York Judge Naomi Buchwald initially ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in 2018, determining that Trump had violated their First Amendment rights by preventing them from seeing what he had posted on the social media platform.
“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,” Buchwald wrote at the time. “The answer to both questions is no.”
Justice Thomas speaks out
The Trump administration went on to unblock many of those accounts, but a new group of Twitter followers filed a similar suit a short time later, prompting the administration to appeal to the nation’s highest court.
In addition to sending the case back to the appeals court for dismissal, Judge Clarence Thomas used the opportunity to add a notable warning to social media companies.
“Today’s digital platforms provide avenues for historically unprecedented amounts of speech, including speech by government actors,” he wrote.
As a result of the power that they wield, Thomas determined that the court system “will soon have no choice but to address how our legal doctrines apply to highly concentrated, privately owned information infrastructures such as digital platforms.”
While social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have long faced criticism from conservatives over perceived censorship, this ruling signals that they could soon face an entirely new set of legal challenges if the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes on other common practices.