Ocasio-Cortez Sued For Blocking People On Twitter

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is being sued for blocking people on Twitter. She's likely to lose the lawsuits.

Just days after a Federal Appeals Court upheld a lower court ruling that President Trump had violated the First Amendment by blocking users from accessing his Twitter account, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has found herself the Defendant in two lawsuits for ostensibly the same activity:

President Trump and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are diametrical opposites in nearly every way, except perhaps for their shared home state of New York and their social media dominance.

But now there may be another thing that binds the two: a federal appeals panel ruling on Tuesday found that Mr. Trump, a Republican, has been violating the Constitution by blocking people from following him on Twitter because they criticized or mocked him.

That ruling is now the basis of two lawsuits filed against Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat, accusing her of blocking people because of their opposing political stances.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has 4.7 million followers on her personal Twitter account, @AOC, which she uses to frequently discuss policy and advocate her proposals, such as the Green New Deal and her belief that the camps holding children and other undocumented immigrants seeking asylum at the Texas border are “concentration camps.”

Dov Hikind, a former assemblyman from Brooklyn who is the founder of Americans Against Anti-Semitism, said he regularly replied to Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s tweets, but was blocked on July 8.

Joseph Saladino, a YouTube personality known as “Joey Salads” who is running for a congressional seat representing Brooklyn and Staten Island, said he was blocked on May 9.

But because Ms. Ocasio-Cortez uses the account to discuss policies that affect them, she cannot use it to “suppress contrary views” and violate his First Amendment rights to free speech, Mr. Hikind said in his lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in Brooklyn.

“It’s very clear based on the court’s ruling that A.O.C. is violating my constitutional rights to free speech by excluding me,” Mr. Hikind said in an interview. “She doesn’t want me to be a part of the discussion and conversation.”

Mr. Hikind said he was blocked after criticizing Ms. Ocasio-Cortez for her concentration camp comments.

“She has a right to have that position. That’s not the issue. The question is why is she afraid of other people’s positions?” he added.

Mr. Saladino, whose pranks have been criticized as racist, filed a separate lawsuit in Federal District Court in Manhattan. He said that as a practical matter, he does not care if Ms. Ocasio-Cortez blocked him because he can still access her Twitter comments from an anonymous account.

He said his complaint is a test of whether there is a double standard in the courts for liberals and conservatives.

“At the end of the day, it’s like a social experiment to see if the standards will apply equally,” Mr. Saladino said. “Will the courts rule the same way against A.O.C. as Trump?”

Corbin Trent, a spokesman for Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, declined to comment about pending litigation.

Based on the ruling of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in the Trump case, it seems fairly clear that the Plaintiffs in these cases ought to prevail in their respective lawsuits. While @AOC is not Ocasio-Cortez’s “official” Congressional Twitter account, which is @RepAOC, she frequently, indeed almost exclusively, uses the first account to communicate political messages to her supporters and constituents. This makes is essentially identical to Trump’s @RealDonaldTrump account, which he utilizes far more than he does his “official” @POTUS account. Because of that, the Court’s conclusions regarding the “personal” Trump account, that it essentially amounts to a forum that he uses to conduct business related to his office, apply just as equally to AOC’s “personal account.

Since these cases were filed in the same Circuit as the Trump case, the District Court Judge that presides over them will be bound by the precedent established by the panel in the Trump case unless and until that case is reversed by the en banc 2nd Circuit or the Supreme Court. Given that, the best strategy for Ocasio-Cortez would be to unblock everyone she has blocked and agree that she won’t block anyone in the future, with the possible exception of people who make threats against her. Of course, those people should immediately be reported to law enforcement since it’s illegal to threaten the life of a Member of Congress, or anyone else for that matter. It would save a lot of time and a not-insignificant amount of legal fees.

FILED UNDER: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Donald Trump, First Amendment, Law and the Courts, Politicians, U.S. Constitution, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Joe says:

    I agree. This lawsuit looks like game, set, match. I would also think that Twitter would remove threats – I sure hope they violate its policy.

  2. James Joyner says:

    I thought the ruling was problematic WRT Trump and worse WRT AOC. Twitter can’t keep up with the haters and trolls and she shouldn’t be forced to put it with them in order to read @s from supporters and constituents.

  3. @James Joyner:

    Muting people can solve that problem and still allow the person who was muted the ability to continue to access the timeline of the politician in question.

    In any case unless and until SCOTUS overrules the 2nd Circuit the ruling is the pervailing law there so the outcome of the cases against AOC seems certain.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I agree that muting solves part of the problem but it doesn’t stop trolls doing retweets with harassing comments. Maybe that’s just the cost of public service in today’s America but it seems a bit much.

    But, yes, I agree that the 2nd Circuit ruling is prevailing law for a Congresswoman from New York. (It’s likely not binding on courts in other circuits but certainly has first-mover advantage in setting precedent.)

  5. Jay L Gischer says:

    I agree with Doug’s recommendation. And muting would work fine.

    I feel there’s a significant potential distinction though between AOC and Trump. Trump has used his Twitter account to announce policy changes. He has expected other people in his administration to take official action based on what he tweets. Has AoC done that? Can she do that, be a Representative, rather than a President?

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  6. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Individual-1 has stated that his personal account twitter statements are official statements of the POTUS.
    Has AOC made the same claim about her personal account?
    Makes no never mind to me either way…just curious.

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  7. Gustopher says:

    Given that, the best strategy for Ocasio-Cortez would be to unblock everyone she has blocked and agree that she won’t block anyone in the future, with the possible exception of people who make threats against her. Of course, those people should immediately be reported to law enforcement since it’s illegal to threaten the life of a Member of Congress, or anyone else for that matter. It would save a lot of time and a not-insignificant amount of legal fees.

    Does she have a right to block people who aren’t in her district? The Trump ruling didn’t cover that.

    And, just strategically, in this new, hostile world, I might suggest blocking people, and making them get court orders, and then complying with the court orders. Make them identify themselves, and make them spend money on lawyers — a couple of speedbumps that will get rid of some of the trolls.

    Nazis may have free speech rights, but we should make them fight for their rights, rather than helping Nazis.

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  8. Alex Hamilton says:

    Seems pretty straightforward to me. If you’re a representative of the government you can’t block anyone. In return, the social media platforms should have to prioritize enforcing T&C violations targeting them.

  9. Andy says:

    I think the solution is to do what we’ve done for years in government, which is split official and personal accounts. The present condition where politicians essentially use their personal accounts as their official public voice causes too many problems and is ultimately untenable.

  10. SKI says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    Individual-1 has stated that his personal account twitter statements are official statements of the POTUS.
    Has AOC made the same claim about her personal account?
    Makes no never mind to me either way…just curious.

    Actually, I think the Court may use that as a distinction to come to a different result in this case.

    They may not but it is plausible distinction they may make.

  11. Jim Brown 32 says:

    Here’s a novel idea: How about staying the #@$! off Twitter and go about the business of governance and legislation?

    Then we dont have to concern ourselves with blocking people.

    It takes time and effort to make yourself smart on issues voters care about. Most of that information will not be gleaned from the social media population. If you have time to grow a Twitter personality ..its indicative that you have no interest in educating yourself. Perhaps one the the electorate will grow tired of personalities and elect people that want to legislate.

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  12. mattbernius says:

    @Andy:
    On the one hand I totally agree. On the other hand, I think that works great in theory and immediately collapses the moment that you encounter anyone in a high ranking position.

    More importantly how do you regulate that? Asking for PoTUS because I’m not sure that genie can ever be effectively stuffed back in the bottle now that the norm (which was already sketchy under Obama) has been officially run over repeatedly by Trump.