The nation’s highest court agreed with the Department of Justice (DOJ), which told it in January that the case would become moot when Joe Biden was sworn in as president.
“That transition will moot this case, as then-President Biden will have no ability to control the use of Donald J. Trump’s personal Twitter account. Because this case warrants review but will become moot pending such review, the Court should follow its established practice of granting certiorari and vacating the judgment,” the DOJ said in a filing (pdf).
Under Trump, the DOJ had asked the Supreme Court to overturn a ruling from the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, which, in 2019, ruled that Trump violated the First Amendment when he prevented some users from viewing or commenting on his Twitter posts.
Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall said in the 2020 petition that the appeals court erred by not making a distinction between the president’s official communications on Twitter and the personal nature of his decision to prevent certain users from interacting with him.
The Supreme Court agreed with the DOJ’s latest position, vacating the appeals court judgment and remanding the case to the court with instructions to dismiss it as moot.
The lawsuit was brought by a group of users who were blocked by Trump, along with the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.
In a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas agreed with the dismissal but said it was “rather odd to say that something is a government forum when a private company has unrestricted authority to do away with it.”
“The disparity between Twitter’s control and Mr. Trump’s control is stark, to say the least. Mr. Trump blocked several people from interacting with his messages. Twitter barred Mr. Trump not only from interacting with a few users, but removed him from the entire platform, thus barring all Twitter users from interacting with his messages. Under its terms of service, Twitter can remove any person from the platform—including the President of the United States—’at any time for any or no reason,'” wrote Thomas, a George H.W. Bush nominee, referring to Twitter’s ban of Trump in early January, while the Republican was still in office.
“The petitions highlight two important facts. Today’s digital platforms provide avenues for historically unprecedented amounts of speech, including speech by government actors. Also unprecedented, however, is the concentrated control of so much speech in the hands of a few private parties.
“We will soon have no choice but to address how our legal doctrines apply to highly concentrated, privately owned information infrastructure such as digital platforms.”