The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University has written to Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in an attempt to dissuade her from the unconstitutional practice of blocking people on Twitter because of the views they have expressed.
In the letter, the Knight First Amendment Institute says that because Ocasio-Cortez uses her Twitter account as an extension of her office, it believes the account is a public forum and therefore, blocking users from this account violates their First Amendment rights:
“Based on the facts as we understand them, the @AOC account is a “public forum” within the meaning of the First Amendment. You use the account as an extension of your office—to share information about congressional hearings, to explain policy proposals, to advocate legislation, and to solicit public comment about issues relating to government.”
The letter also pushes back against claims from Ocasio-Cortez’s attorney’s which argue that the account is personal and should not be subject to the First Amendment:
“In pending litigation, your attorneys have argued that the @AOC account is not subject to the First Amendment because it is a personal account. As we have explained above, that characterization is incorrect. Further, while we understand that you have another account that is nominally your “official” one, the fact remains that you use the @AOC account as an extension of your office.”
Additionally, the letter cites a previous ruling where the Second Circuit Court of Appeals rejected President Trump’s argument that the First Amendment should not apply to his personal @realDonaldTrump Twitter account:
“Notably, the Second Circuit rejected President Trump’s argument that his account is a personal one even though he has other accounts—@POTUS and @WhiteHouse—that are nominally official. The Court wrote, “the First Amendment does not permit a public official who utilizes a social media account for all manner of official purposes to exclude persons from an otherwise-open online dialogue because they expressed views with which the official disagrees.”
It then finishes by urging Ocasio-Cortez to unblock anyone who has been previously blocked because of their viewpoints.
In the letter, the Knight First Amendment Institute notes that Ocasio-Cortez can block users for “reasons that are both reasonable and constitutionally legitimate” such as threatening speech and asks for the opportunity to work with her to put together a social media policy that “both complies with the First Amendment and helps you address threats, abuse, and harassment.”
Ocasio-Cortez has responded to the letter by claiming that she has blocked 20 accounts for “ongoing harassment” and that none of these accounts are her constituents.
People are free to speak whatever classist, racist, false, misogynistic, bigoted comments they’d like.
They do not have the right to force others to endure their harassment and abuse. ✌🏽
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) August 29, 2019
The letter from Knight First Amendment Institute adds to the legal pressure Ocasio-Cortez is already facing to unblock critics on Twitter. Multiple people have filed lawsuits against Ocasio-Cortez since the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it’s unconstitutional for public officials to block critics on Twitter including Joey Saladino, the first YouTuber to be running for Congress, and former Democratic New York Assemblyman Dov Hikin.
A more recent Missouri court ruling has also reaffirmed that it’s unconstitutional for politicians to block their critics on Twitter. In the Missouri case, the court ruled that Republican Cheri Toalson Reisch’s blocking of one of her constituents was a violation of their First Amendment rights.