“Roses are Red,
somethings are still true
like we’ll all be better off
after we fire you.”
That was a poem that Philip Cohen shared on Twitter with the President of the United States this Thursday.
As you could probably guess by his prose, Cohen isn’t a poet by profession. He is a sociologist at the University of Maryland but enjoys using Twitter to amplify his views on Donald Trump, especially via replies to the president’s daily online rants.
“12,000 people saw the tweet,” Cohen told me. “It’s like carrying a sign at the protest but efficiently.”
This small act of defiance, however, was harder for Cohen as of last week.
Like hundreds of Twitter users, Cohen was blocked by the president, meaning that he was unable to access Trump’s tweets while logged into his account.
On Monday, the block was rescinded.
Cohen and six other Twitter users were plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by the Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute arguing that the president’s habit of blocking his critics was a violation of their right to free speech.
A federal judge in the Southern District of New York ruled in their favor last month, writing that “the viewpoint-based exclusion of the individual plaintiffs from that designated public forum is proscribed by the First Amendment.”
Eleven days later, the Justice Department, which is representing the president, told Cohen’s attorney that they would be filing an appeal, but at nearly the same time, the seven plaintiffs began to realize that the president’s tweets were suddenly reappearing in their timelines.
Cohen described the ordeal as surreal.
“One of the things about social media is it always makes you feel like you’re personally interacting with people who are much more famous or important than you,” Cohen explained. “It’s pretty bizarre that it suddenly became real and became part of an actual court case.”
“The fact that a bunch of lawyers actually showed up wearing suits and the judge was [up there] on the dais, it was kind of awesome in the sense of awe like it made me realize what was happening was real and actually is kind of important,” he added.
While emphasizing that he is a minor individual in the case, Cohen noted that the victory was a sign that while Trump is violating norms, it was a sign that the rule of law can keep at least some from being violated.
That’s not to say that the matter is completely settled. In addition to the appeal, scores of Twitter users have reported that they continue to be blocked by Trump despite the court’s ruling.
Brian Krassenstein, one of the louder personalities’ in Twitter’s “#resistance” movement, continues to be blocked, as does his brother Ed Krassenstein.
“I was aware of the lawsuit and if I knew that it would have gotten me unblocked, I would have joined it,” Krassenstein acknowledged during a phone conversation. “I wish i did now. I just figured that they won in court, then they would have to unblock everybody, but I’m not sure if that’s going to happen or not.”
Krassenstein explained that he isn’t too concerned about continuing to be blocked, pointing out that if he wants to see the president’s tweets, he can simply log out of his account, but ultimately just wants the president to act fairly.
“I can get around it, I guess, As president, he shouldn’t have such thin skin,” Krassenstein said. “He should allow his constituents or the citizens under him to give their opinion on his tweets, especially when some of his tweets are inaccurate.”
The reasoning behind why the plaintiffs were unblocked and others continue to have the president’s tweets hidden are likely due to the language surrounding the initial ruling.
Trump was not specifically ordered to unblock followers, but Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald left it partially open to the White House to determine how to carry her ruling out.
“It seems like a strange mix of how this has unfolded,” Joshua Geltzer, the executive director of Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP) said. “Judge Buchwald indicated that she could postpone the thorny questions about injunctive relief in this context against these defendants by saying that she would almost literally declare what the law was and trust that the president and the other defends would abide by that.”
“In a sense, I suppose, it’s gratifying to see that judge Buchwald’s faith that the president did not believe himself above the law,” Geltzer added. “On the other hand, if this is the view of the law, it doesn’t make a ton of sense to maintain others who seem indistinguishably situated as blocked.”
In the meantime, those blocked are continuing to miss tweets that have previously been described by the White House as official presidential statements, Earth-shaking pronouncements like this:
How could Jeff Flake, who is setting record low polling numbers in Arizona and was therefore humiliatingly forced out of his own Senate seat without even a fight (and who doesn’t have a clue), think about running for office, even a lower one, again? Let’s face it, he’s a Flake!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 7, 2018
The Fake News Media has been so unfair, and vicious, to my wife and our great First Lady, Melania. During her recovery from surgery they reported everything from near death, to facelift, to left the W.H. (and me) for N.Y. or Virginia, to abuse. All Fake, she is doing really well!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 6, 2018
Actually, First Amendment concerns aside, maybe it’s blocked who are the lucky ones.