white house social media director dan scavino H u m a n i t i e s

white house social media director dan scavino H u m a n i t i e s

Write a 7-8 page paper (not including a work-cited page or cover page re: the question Did President Donald Trump violate the First Amendment when he blocked users from his Twitter account because they criticized him?  The Knight First Amendment Institute, based out of Columbia University in New York City, is representing seven people who filed suit against the President for doing just that.  A federal district court judge ruled last May that President Trump’s actions were a violation of the free speech clause, and the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recently heard arguments in Trump’s appeal on March 26 and upheld the District Court ruling on July 9.  

Here’s a pretty good roundup of where the case stood before the Second Circuit Ruling, including brief discussions of the arguments from each side and broader implications, from the editorial board of the New York Times:  

“The Constitution and the President’s Tweets” Download “The Constitution and the President’s Tweets”

And here is a write-up of the Second Circuit decision from the Washington Post:

“President Trump cannot block his critics on Twitter, federal appeals court rules” Download “President Trump cannot block his critics on Twitter, federal appeals court rules” 

Lecture on Case & Paper

Watch the video below for (a lot) more information on the paper, the case, and the precedents you must include in your paper:

Knight Institute v. Trump (Links to an external site.) 

Some important notes beyond this background: this case was appealed to the Supreme Court from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.  Remember that the federal court system has three different levels:  District Court, Circuit Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court.  The judge in the Southern District of New York ruled in favor of the Knight Institute and the individual plaintiffs, and the President and his team then appealed the ruling to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.  A three-judge panel on that Court issued a decision on July 9, 2018.  President Trump petitioned the Supreme Court to grant certiorari in the case in August 2020, though the case was eventually rendered moot.

Documents and Other Media

You can find the Second Circuit decision here, along with the Supreme Court ruling:
Knight Institute v. Trump (Second Circuit decision) Download Knight Institute v. Trump (Second Circuit decision)
Biden v. Knight Institute (Supreme Court decision)  Download Biden v. Knight Institute (Supreme Court decision) 

You must also include the three precedents below:
Brandenburg v. Ohio Download Brandenburg v. Ohio
Schenk v. United States Download Schenk v. United States
Snyder v. Phelps Download Snyder v. Phelps

The Knight Institute also put out several very quick videos summarizing their arguments.  Obviously, this is a one-side view of the case – it’s meant to be, of course – but they are useful to get a sense of the big questions in the case and the overarching arguments that the Institute is making.  The first video summarizes the importance of the case and why the Institute is pursuing it, along with some of their arguments.  The next two are from immediately after the oral arguments before the Second Circuit in March.  In one, Institute Director Jameel Jaffer articulates the arguments of both sides.  In the other, Knight Institute senior attorney Katie Fallow identifies her side’s arguments and notes the Constitutional questions on which the judge focused during questioning.  Those videos can be viewed here:



https:// (Links to an external site.)

https://vimeo.com/325662467 (Links to an external site.)

There’s not as clear and concise of a summary video from the Trump side, though here is an interview with White House Social Media Director Dan Scavino (also a named defendant) from several years before discussing how the President (at the time just a candidate) interacts with other Twitter users and manages the @realDonaldTrump account:


Paper Prompt

In your paper, you must address the following questions:

The Supreme Court vacated this decision, rendering the case moot – let’s imagine they didn’t!  What are the arguments made by each side of the dispute?  Compare this case to the following precedents concerning free speech:  Schenck v. US, Brandenburg v. Ohio, and Snyder v. Phelps.  How does the Twitter case fit in and how might these precedents be applied here?  What does this case illustrate about social media and our understanding of free speech and the First Amendment in the ‘Digital Age’ we see today?

You do not have to pick a side in this case (though of course you are welcome to do so).  You can absolutely include your own views on the case, though that should not make up the bulk of the paper.  Keep in mind that this is not a paper about how you feel about President Trump, President Biden, the Knight Institute, or any other political figure.  Be sure to address all parts of the prompt above.  Don’t waste too much time and space summarizing the case facts, and please don’t spend your whole paper telling me how Twitter works.

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