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Federal Judge Wants AOC to Explain In Court Why She Blocks Twitter Critics

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A federal judge in New York City ordered Democrat Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to give testimony in a lawsuit alleging she violated the First Amendment by blocking critics on Twitter.

U.S. District Judge Frederic Block asked for the congresswoman’s testimony during a Thursday hearing in a Brooklyn federal court. After accepting evidence and hearing witness testimony, the judge said the hearing would continue when he could hear from Ocasio-Cortez.

The plaintiff is former Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a Jewish community leader who criticized the freshman Democrat for comparing migrant detention facilities at the border with concentration camps. Hikind alleges the congresswoman blocked him because of his tweet.

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“AOC’s actions violate the First Amendment rights of Mr. Hikind, others like Mr. Hikind, and those who follow the @AOC account and are now deprived of their right to read the speech of the dissenters who have been blocked,” Hikind’s complaint reads.

A group of Twitter users blocked from the @realDonaldTrump account sued President Donald Trump on a similar First Amendment theory. They prevailed before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on July 9, when a three-judge panel ruled that the interactive digital space attending particular tweets is a public forum where the First Amendment applies.

As in the Trump case, Ocasio-Cortez counters that her @AOC handle is a personal account, while a separate @repaoc account is an official platform open to all comers.

Joseph Sandler and David Mitrani of Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock, who represent Ocasio-Cortez in the litigation, said her conduct on both accounts is consistent with congressional rules.

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“We are pleased that at [Thursday’s] hearing the court provided both sides a full and fair opportunity to present the facts regarding the use of the two separate Twitter accounts by the congresswoman — one that is for her official use (@repaoc) and the other for her campaign/personal use (@AOC),” Sandler and Mitrani said.

“Significantly, we were able to bring the court’s attention to the House rules that put up a solid wall between social media accounts used for official purposes and those used for campaign/personal purposes — and to other very significant differences between the use of congresswoman’s personal/campaign account and the clearly official Trump account that was the subject of a court ruling precluding the president from blocking followers on that account,” they added.

The Knight First Amendment Institute, a public interest law practice specializing in free speech issues, warned Ocasio-Cortez in an Aug. 28 letter that blocking her social media critics is viewpoint discrimination, a cardinal First Amendment sin. The Institute said the distinction between professional and personal accounts is immaterial if a personal account functions as an extension of a public official’s office.

“While we understand that you have another account that is nominally your ‘official’ one, the fact remains that you use the @AOC account as an extension of your office,” the Knight Institute wrote. “Notably, the 2nd Circuit rejected President Trump’s argument that his account is a personal one even though he has other accounts — @POTUS and @WhiteHouse — that are nominally official,” they wrote.

The case is Hikind v. Ocasio-Cortez in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

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