Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told to unblock opponents on Twitter

Two women together.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Cynthia Nixon. Photo credit: file

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University said on Thursday it has asked Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to unblock any Twitter users she has barred on the basis of their political views.

The Knight Institute, which successfully sued President Donald Trump over his decision to block dozens of users on Twitter from his personal @realdonaldtrump account, wrote Ocasio-Cortez urging her not to block followers because of their views. It said the practice "is unconstitutional, and we are writing in the hope of dissuading you from engaging in it".

Ocasio-Cortez, a first-term New York Democrat, was sued in July by former Democratic New York state Assemblyman Dov Hikind for blocking him from her personal @AOC account.

The Knight Institute argued that her account, with 5.3 million followers, "is a 'public forum' within the meaning of the First Amendment" and noted that her tweets staking out political positions "have made headline news".

Her office did not immediately comment. Twitter declined to comment.

Ocasio-Cortez is within her rights, however, to block Twitter users that have posted threatening speech, the group noted.

Lawyers for Ocasio-Cortez said in an August 14 letter that her Twitter account use is not equivalent to Trump's. They said she did not block Hikind because of his political views and denied she uses her account to make formal announcements.

Last month Hikind tweeted: "No one is above the law. If the courts ruled POTUS can't block people on Twitter, why would @AOC think she can get away with silencing her critics?"

Last week, Trump challenged a federal appeals court decision that ruled he violated the US Constitution by blocking people whose views he disliked from his account.

Trump sought a rehearing by the full 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, calling the 3-0 decision "fundamentally misconceived."

Trump has 63.7 million Twitter followers, and often uses his account to make significant announcements.

The appeals court in July upheld a 2018 lower court ruling forcing Trump to unblock several dozen followers.

A Justice Department, in a filing in support of Trump's request, cited Ocasio-Cortez, saying: "But under the panel's decision, public officials who use these accounts to engage their followers can be penalized for engaging in open dialogue about their official policies, because that very speech can strip them of their pre-existing rights to exclude and subject every action taken by them on the account to constitutional scrutiny."

The appeals court found Trump's account bears "all the trappings of an official, state-run account" and is "one of the White House's main vehicles for conducting official business".