Over the past few years, we have kept readers informed about cases involving elected officials and their use of social media. You may recall the case in Virginia where a court of appeals determined that a county commissioner’s blocking of users from her Facebook page was a First Amendment violation. The most talked about case involving an elected official’s use of social media, however, was the case filed by the Knight First Amendment Institute against then-President Trump alleging that his blocking of users who criticized him on Twitter was a violation of the First Amendment. That case made its way to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals which issued a ruling in 2019 finding then-President Trump in violation of the First Amendment. We reported on that ruling here. We also reported when then-President Trump appealed the court of appeals ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court just issued a ruling today sending the case back to the Second Circuit with instructions to dismiss the case as “moot.” The case (now named Joseph R. Biden, Jr. v. Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, et al. because of the change in administration) is a short read. The U.S. Supreme Court issued a two sentence opinion vacating the judgment of the Second Circuit and remanding it back to the court of appeals with instructions to dismiss the case as moot. Justice Thomas filed a separate concurring opinion (12 pages), arguing that although he agreed that the case should be vacated as moot because of the change in administration, he questioned whether the First Amendment applies to a platform where a private company (in this case, Twitter) has “unbridled control” of user accounts.
What’s interesting is that after the change in administration, both sides (the Department of Justice and the Knight First Amendment Institute) had argued that the U.S. Supreme Court should declare the case “moot” but for different reasons. The DOJ argued the case was moot because of the change in administration. The Knight First Amendment Institute also argued the case was moot but because Twitter had permanently banned Trump from its platform.