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Case Name Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University v. Trump PR-NY-0004
Docket / Court 1:17-cv-05205-NRB ( S.D.N.Y. )
State/Territory New York
Case Type(s) Speech and Religious Freedom
Attorney Organization ACLU Affiliates (any)
Case Summary
This case addressed First Amendment claims concerning President Donald J. Trump’s blocking of Twitter users from his account.

On July 11, 2017, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, as well as various political writers and professors, filed this suit in the U.S ... read more >
This case addressed First Amendment claims concerning President Donald J. Trump’s blocking of Twitter users from his account.

On July 11, 2017, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, as well as various political writers and professors, filed this suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The plaintiffs sued President Donald J. Trump, White House Press Secretary Sean M. Spicer, and other agents of the executive branch alleging First Amendment violations. The plaintiffs argued that President Trump’s Twitter account was a public forum and alleged that by blocking Twitter users who had criticized President Trump or his policies, the defendants had unconstitutionally limited those users’ right to free speech. The plaintiffs, represented by private counsel and the ACLU, sought declaratory and injunctive relief as well as attorneys’ fees and costs. The case was assigned to Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald.

On October 13, 2017, the defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that the district court lacked jurisdiction over the plaintiffs’ claims, that the plaintiffs could not establish a state action, and that blocking the individual plaintiffs did not violate the public forum doctrine.

On November 3, 2017, the plaintiffs responded with a cross-motion for summary judgment, arguing that the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account was a designated public forum and that blocking the individual plaintiffs was an unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.

On May 23, 2018, the Court granted in part and denied in part both motions for summary judgment. Judge Buchwald concluded that the court had jurisdiction but found that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Hope Hicks, two other press officials in the Trump Administration. Thus, the two were dismissed as defendants. Next, the Court found that the type of speech the plaintiffs sought to engage in was protected by the First Amendment and that the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account was susceptible to analysis under the public forum doctrine. Lastly, Judge Buchwald concluded that the viewpoint-based exclusion, or blocking, of a Twitter user from the account was proscribed by the First Amendment and could not be justified by the President’s personal interests. 302 F. Supp. 3d 541.

On June 4, 2018, the defendants appealed this decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. A panel consisting of Judges Barrington D. Parker, Peter W. Hall, and Christopher F. Droney upheld the district court's ruling in a July 9, 2019 decision. They found that the President's Twitter account was not a private platform and produced government speech as part of a public forum. Under this classification, discrimination based on viewpoint was not permissible, and blocking the Twitter users amounted to viewpoint discrimination. The panel added that "workarounds" such as logging out of Twitter to see the President's tweets without the ability to comment placed an unfair burden on expression, too. Therefore, the President was no longer allowed to block Twitter users from the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account. 928 F.3d 226.

The defendants applied for a rehearing en banc after this opinion was filed, but Judge Parker denied their motion on March 23, 2020, reiterating the positions held in the previous opinion. Circuit Judges Michael Park and Richard Sullivan dissented, questioning the broadening of the scope of public forum doctrine to include Twitter accounts. They also contested the decision that a government official using Twitter amounted to government speech. 953 F.3d 216.

Trump petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court in August 2020. However, after President Biden's inauguration (Jan. 2020), President Biden was substituted as petitioner. On April 5, 2021, the Supreme Court granted certiorari. The Second Circuit’s judgment from July 9, 2019, (928 F.3d 226) was vacated and the case was remanded to the Second Circuit with instructions to dismiss the case as moot. In a concurring statement, Justice Thomas’ elaborated that United States v. Munsingwear allowed the Court to vacate the Second Court’s decision because of a change in Presidential administration. Additionally, Thomas wrote that the “more glaring concern must perforce be the dominant digital platforms themselves” and their influence over speech. 141 S.Ct. 1220.

On June 9, 2021, plaintiffs moved for attorney fees. Plaintiffs argued that they were entitled under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) as they had secured a ruling that “materially altered the legal relationship of the parties and also achieved the benefit Plaintiffs sought.” This was referencing the District Court’s ruling on May 23, 2018. Notably, plaintiffs sought only a portion of the fees that they claimed the EAJA entitled them to. Specifically, plaintiffs declined to pursue many of the costs associated with their private counsel. Instead, plaintiffs mainly sought to be compensatedfor their “distinctive knowledge or specialized skill in the areas of the First Amendment and constitutional law,” citing an apparent “limited availability” for qualified experts in that area. The motion included a chart of costs sought which totaled approximately $717,000. As of July 6, 2021, this motion is pending.

This case is ongoing.

Jake Parker - 07/20/2018
Sichun Liu - 03/04/2019
Ellen Aldin - 06/23/2020
Eric Gripp - 07/06/2021


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Freedom of speech/association
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
General
Access to public accommodations - governmental
Plaintiff Type
Non-profit NON-religious organization
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action Ex parte Young (federal or state officials)
Defendant(s) President of the United States
Plaintiff Description The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and various political writers and professors.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations ACLU Affiliates (any)
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Declaratory Judgment
Source of Relief Litigation
Filed 07/11/2017
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
  Knight Institute v. Trump
Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University
Date: May 29, 2020
By: Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Court Docket(s)
S.D.N.Y.
06/09/2021
1:17-cv-5205
PR-NY-0004-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
S.D.N.Y.
07/11/2017
Complaint [ECF# 1]
PR-NY-0004-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
S.D.N.Y.
08/11/2017
Re: Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, et al. v. Trump, et al., No. 17-cv-5205 (NRB) [ECF# 21]
PR-NY-0004-0002.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
S.D.N.Y.
05/23/2018
Memorandum and Order [ECF# 72] (302 F.Supp.3d 541)
PR-NY-0004-0003.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
U.S. Court of Appeals
03/23/2020
Opinion [Ct. of App. ECF# 103] (953 F.3d 216)
PR-NY-0004-0006.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Google Scholar
U.S. Court of Appeals
04/01/2020
Opinion [Ct. of App. ECF# 104] (928 F.3d 226)
PR-NY-0004-0004.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
S.D.N.Y.
04/10/2020
Affirmed Motion for Attorney Fees [ECF# 79]
PR-NY-0004-0005.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
U.S. Supreme Court
04/05/2021
Opinion of the Court (141 S.Ct. 1220)
PR-NY-0004-0007.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: Google Scholar
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Judges Bianco, Joseph Frank (E.D.N.Y., Second Circuit) show/hide docs
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Buchwald, Naomi Reice (S.D.N.Y.) show/hide docs
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Cabranes, José Alberto (FISCR, D. Conn., Second Circuit) show/hide docs
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Chin, Denny (S.D.N.Y., Second Circuit) show/hide docs
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Droney, Christopher Fitzgerald (Second Circuit, D. Conn.) show/hide docs
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Hall, Peter W. (Second Circuit) show/hide docs
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Katzmann, Robert A. (Second Circuit) show/hide docs
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Lohier, Raymond Joseph Jr. (Second Circuit) show/hide docs
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Park, Michael Hun (Second Circuit) show/hide docs
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Parker, Barrington Daniels Sr. (D.D.C.) show/hide docs
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Pooler, Rosemary S. (N.D.N.Y., Second Circuit) show/hide docs
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Sullivan, Richard Joseph (S.D.N.Y., Second Circuit) show/hide docs
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Thomas, Clarence (D.C. Circuit, SCOTUS) show/hide docs
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Plaintiff's Lawyers Abdo, Alex (New York) show/hide docs
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Amunson, Jessica Ring (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Bhagwat, Ashutosh (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Chemerinsky, Erwin (California) show/hide docs
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DeCell, Caroline M. (New York) show/hide docs
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Fallow, Katherine A. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Greene, David Allen (California) show/hide docs
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Jaffer, Jameel (New York) show/hide docs
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Johnson, Tassity S. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Krishnan, Meenakshi (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Lakier, Genevieve (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Leinwand, Tali Ravit (New York) show/hide docs
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Lidsky, Lyrissa (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Norton, Helen L. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Shanor, Amanda (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Stone, Geoffrey R (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Tribe, Laurence (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
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Tushnet, Rebecca (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Defendant's Lawyers Baer, Michael Hendry (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Halainen, Daniel (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Hunt, Joseph H. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Knapp, Cody Taylor (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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McIntosh, Scott R. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Mooppan, Hashim M. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Readler, Chad Andrew (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Utrecht, Jennifer (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Womack, Eric R. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Other Lawyers Backer, Dan (Virginia) show/hide docs
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Burgess, Brian (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Geltzer, Joshua A. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Golder, Chad (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Kim, Andrew (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Marshak, Amy (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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McCord, Mary B. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Miller−Ziegler, Rachel G (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Stoltz, Mitchell L. (California) show/hide docs
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Verrilli, Donald B. Jr. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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