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World News

U.S. asks Supreme Court to review decision requiring Trump to unblock critics on Twitter

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Iraq's Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., August 20, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Justice Department on Thursday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review an appeals court decision requiring U.S. President Donald Trump to unblock Twitter users from viewing his account.

Trump lost a lawsuit in May 2018 on behalf of Twitter users and agreed to unblock those accounts. Trump has made his @RealDonaldTrump account, which he opened in 2009, a central and controversial part of his presidency, using it to attack critics and to promote his agenda to his more than 85 million followers.

The Justice Department said if left standing, the ruling “would deter holders of his office from using new technology to efficiently communicate to a broad public audience.”

Last month, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University filed a new lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan on behalf of five additional individuals who remain blocked. The group urged the Supreme Court not to take up the Justice Department’s appeal.

“This case stands for a principle that is fundamental to our democracy and basically synonymous with the First Amendment: government officials can’t exclude people from public forums simply because they disagree with their political views,” said Jameel Jaffer, the Knight Institute’s executive director.

The Justice Department said “by ignoring the critical distinction between the president’s (sometimes) official statements on Twitter and his always personal decision to block respondents from his own account, the opinion blurs the line between state action and private conduct.”

A federal appeals court in July 2019 upheld the ruling and the full 2nd U.S. Circuit Appeals Court in March declined to reverse that ruling.

“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,” wrote Circuit Judge Barrington Parker.

Trump in May attacked Twitter for tagging his tweets about unsubstantiated claims of fraud about mail-in voting with a warning.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Dan Grebler

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