Politicians Blocking Citizens on Social Media
The Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez edition.
President Trump’s practice of governing via his personal Twitter account set off a legal debate about whether viewing and responding to a politician’s social media is protected under the First Amendment. Naturally, that discussion is expanding to Members of Congress.
The Blaze‘s Chris Enloe gets the ball rolling under the headline “Did Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez violate the Constitution with her latest action on Twitter?”
On Friday, the Daily Wire’s Ryan Saavedra broke the news that Ocasio-Cortez had seemingly changed her accent while speaking to a predominantly black crowd at Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.
That’s not “news” but a really tired and silly charge that Ocasio-Cortez smacked down pretty easily. See Rolling Stone‘s Peter Wade if you’re interested in that topic.
Eventually, though, Enloe gets to the point:
Saavedra later checked the tapes, concluding that Ocasio-Cortez had, in fact, not used the same accent during the speeches she cited.
Ocasio-Cortez responded by blocking Saavedra on Twitter.
While Twitter blocking previously carried no legal implications, seven people sued President Donald Trump last year for blocking them from viewing his personal Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump.
In a shocking ruling, federal District Court Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald ruled last May that Trump’s actions were unconstitutional and violated the First Amendment. Buchwald ruled that Twitter is a “public forum” protected under the First Amendment.
She said exclusion from participation based on viewpoint — which happens when public officials block detractors — is a violation of the First Amendment.
Trump later appealed Buchwald’s ruling, which is currently pending before the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals. But according to the New York Times, the three-judge panel “seemed skeptical of Mr. Trump’s contention that he was acting in a personal, not official, capacity when he blocked people” during oral arguments in March.
While it’s not yet clear how the appeals court will rule, the decision undoubtedly will have massive implications for government officials moving forward.
So that begs the question: If Trump is guilty of violating the First Amendment by blocking detractors on Twitter, is not Ocasio-Cortez also violating the law?
As I’ve noted previously, I think Buchwald is wrong. She’s 75 years old and it’s my hunch that she simply doesn’t understand how Twitter works.
While citizens have a right to petition their government for redress of grievances, they don’t have a right to an audience. I have no more right to @ RealDonaldTrump on Twitter than I do a meeting with him in the Oval Office. I don’t personally follow him on Twitter, for a variety of reasons, but I have no trouble finding out what he’s saying on that medium.
But even if we accept Buchwald’s ruling as binding, I’d say AOC is still in the clear.
First, I’d argue that she blocked Saavedra because he was harassing her on Twitter, not because of a mere “viewpoint.” There’s a long history of First Amendment law that distinguishes the content of speech and its form.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, while AOC’s surprise primary win and her skill with social media have transformed her into a national figure, she’s officially the U.S. Representative for New York’s 14th congressional district. Unless Saavedra lives in her district—and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t—he has no right to petition her for redress of grievances. Indeed, it’s been a longstanding practice for the contact forms for official Congressional websites to require the inputting of ZIP codes, with only those who live in a Representative’s district or Senator’s state being allowed to send correspondence.