Former Utah writer blocked by Trump on Twitter wins Round 1 in court

Court battle • Court rules in favor of those suing the president for blocking them on the social media platform.

(Photo courtesy Nick Jack Pappas) Self-described “comedy writer, stand-up, and political activist” Nick Jack Pappas

A University of Utah grad and former writer for The Salt Lake Tribune just beat President Donald Trump in court.

Writer/comedian Nick Jack Pappas is one of the plaintiffs who sued Trump for blocking them on Twitter, and a U.S. district judge has ruled that the president’s actions are unconstitutional.

It’s crazy,” Pappas said. “It’s not something that I ever thought would happen in my life. And it wasn’t something I pursued. They reached out to me.”

FILE - This April 3, 2017, file photo shows U.S. President Donald Trump's Twitter feed on a computer screen in Washington. President Donald Trump violates the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment when he blocks critics on Twitter for political speech, a judge ruled Wednesday, May 23, 2018. (AP Photo/J. David Ake, File)

The Knight First Amendment Institute selected Pappas and six others as the plaintiffs in the case, contending that Trump’s Twitter account is a public forum and that he cannot block people who criticize him.

This case requires us to consider whether a public official may, consistent with the First Amendment, ‘block’ a person from his Twitter account in response to the political views that person has expressed, and whether the analysis differs because that public official is the President of the United States,” Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald wrote in a 75-page decision. “The answer to both questions is no.”

And, she added, “No government official — including the President — is above the law.”

(The other six plaintiffs are a Texas police officer from Houston; a Maryland professor; a Tennessee surgical resident; a Washington songwriter; a Pennsylvania author and former cyclist; and a Washington, D.C., writer and legal analyst.)

Pappas, a self-described “comedy writer, stand-up, and political activist” was blocked by Trump following a court decision that overturned the travel ban on Muslims. The president tweeted that the courts have to protect the people; Pappas tweeted back at @realDonaldTrump: “Trump is right. The government should protect the people. That’s why the courts are protecting us from him.”

He was blocked within two hours and has been blocked ever since. As of Wednesday afternoon, that hasn’t changed.

We’re still blocked,” Pappas said. “We haven’t been unblocked yet.”

And he doesn’t expect he will be any time soon, given the appeals process, he said — it’s likely it could go to the Supreme Court.

It’s hard to comprehend that if this were to go to the Supreme Court then it could set laws that could live beyond me,” he said.

Pappas wrote for The Tribune from 2011-14, before moving to New York with his wife, Ana Breton — another former Tribune reporter who is now digital producer for the TBS series “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.”

As a comedian, Pappas is well aware that it might not seem serious to sue a sitting president over social media.

“Being blocked on Twitter is actually kind of a funny thing to sue the president about,” Pappas said. But there are serious issues behind the suit.

Blocking people removes their replies from showing up in response to his tweets, giving the impression that most people support his messages, Pappas said.

“That’s not the case at all, because he blocks the voices that have the best messages,” he said. “Those are the intellectuals, the comedians, the people who are most likely to speak truth to power. And if the public doesn’t get those messages, they are not hearing both sides of the story.”

Pappas doesn’t expect that Trump himself will read his tweets. At a recent hearing, the judge suggested a possible compromise — Trump could mute those he doesn’t want to hear from, which would allow others viewing the @realDonaldTrump to see those responses. And Pappas was fine with that.

Personally, I don’t mind being muted, as long as I can write under the account and other people can see what dissenting voices have to say, that’s what matters to me,” he said.

Pappas is all in on continuing to fight through the appeals process, but he said the lawsuit is also a bit of a burden.

I don’t want to be known as someone who is litigious,” he said. “I want to be known as a good writer. I want to be known as a good comedian, and this doesn’t help my career. In some ways, it may hurt my career.

But I also understand the importance of the First Amendment. I think anybody is a writer or who is in comedy understands how important the First Amendment is to their career and the legacy that’s been left by the people before them.”