Month: December 2018

Presidential Tweets, Obstruction of Justice, and the First Amendment

President Trump’s prolific and sometimes irresponsible use of Twitter has intersected with several significant free speech issues.  Earlier this year, a federal district court ruled that President Trump cannot block Twitter users based on their viewpoints.  Twitter itself is a private forum, not subject to First Amendment protections.  However, @realDonaldTrump’s “interactive space” was deemed a designated public forum incompatible with viewpoint discrimination based on the expressive nature of the medium and President Trump’s use of the account to deliver official pronouncements.

President Trump’s tweets about Muslims who are foreign nationals entering the United States were scrutinized closely by litigants and appellate court judges.  However, the tweets were ultimately not considered relevant to a majority of the Supreme Court in upholding President Trump’s third executive order, which placed entry restrictions on citizens of eight countries.  (Justice Sotomayor’s dissent in Trump v. Hawaii did note his tweets about the entry ban.)  According to Chief Justice Roberts’s majority opinion, the facially neutral executive order, which implicated national security concerns, passed rational basis review and was therefore constitutionally justified “quite apart from any religious hostility.”

Currently, Special Counsel Robert Mueller may be investigating President Trump’s tweets for obstruction of justice offenses.  Specifically, President Trump may have tweeted threats to government officials, like Jeff Sessions, James Comey, and Roger Stone, to attempt to induce them not to offer evidence to Robert Mueller in his investigation of potential Russian interference in the Presidential election.  The relevance of President Trump’s tweets depends upon their constitutional status and whether they provide evidence of the elements of obstruction of justice.

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