Steve April 5, 2021

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday tossed out a lawsuit over former President Donald Trump’s Twitter account, after the Justice Department said the end of Trump’s presidency made the case a dead letter.

The case arose after seven people responded critically to tweets on the president’s now-banned @realDonaldTrump account and he retaliated by blocking them. They sued and won in the lower courts, which held that blocking individual respondents based on their viewpoints violated the First Amendment.

The Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit said the president’s account amounted to a kind of public forum and often concerned official matters with contributions from White House staff members.

The Trump Justice Department urged the Supreme Court to reverse those rulings. While the president’s tweets were sometimes official statements, his decision to block individual responses was a personal one allowed by any Twitter user, government lawyers contended.

But the night before President Joe Biden took the oath of office, the Justice Department asked the court to dismiss the case as moot and to vacate the lower court rulings, too.

Katie Fallow of the Knight Institute, a group that advocates on behalf of First Amendment issues and represented the Twitter users who Trump blocked, urged the justices to leave the lower court rulings intact. “There is now widespread recognition that the principles we established in this case are important to protecting the vitality of public forums that are increasingly important to our democracy,” shaping the way public officials use social media.

Justice Clarence Thomas said he agreed that the case should be dismissed as moot. But he said it highlighted a problem, namely that “applying old doctrines to new digital platforms is rarely straightforward.”

It seems odd, Thomas said, “to say that something is a government forum when a private company has unrestricted authority to do away with it.”

In January, Twitter permanently suspended Trump’s account, citing “the risk of further incitement of violence” after a mob of his supporters attacked the Capitol in an attempt to stop Congress from formally recognizing Biden’s election victory. Five people died.

Pete Williams

Pete Williams is an NBC News correspondent who covers the Justice Department and the Supreme Court, based in Washington.

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