A district judge in California has dismissed Donald Trump’s lawsuit against Twitter, saying the former president’s 2021 ban from the platform appears entirely legal. The order, issued today, gives Trump and a group of other banned users until May 27 to file an amended complaint.
But while it leaves the door open for an appeal, the order is highly critical of the claims in the lawsuit, suggesting that any modified version will face an uphill battle. In particular, the order dismisses Trump’s claims that Twitter violated the First Amendment and rejects the claim that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is unconstitutional.
“The plaintiffs do not start from a position of strength,” Judge James Donato points out in the first paragraph of his analysis. For Trump and his fellow Twitter exiles, things don’t get any better from there.
Trump filed the lawsuit in Florida last year, but it later moved to Twitter’s home state of California, as have similar lawsuits against YouTube and Meta (then Facebook). Trump failed in an initial attempt to get Twitter to reinstate his account as the trial progressed, and he filed an amended complaint to try to strengthen his case.
But Judge Donato found that Twitter was not operating as a state actor when it banned Trump, a claim Trump made while noting that some lawmakers had asked Twitter to remove him from the platform.
“Lawmakers are perfectly free to express opinions without being considered the official voice of ‘the state,'” the ruling says, dismissing a “grab bag” of accusations citing several Democratic elected officials calling for a ban. Even strident comments from Congress, he concludes, “fit within the normal confines of a congressional investigation, as opposed to threats of punitive state action.”
The Section 230 claim failed because Trump and his co-plaintiffs had failed to show any connection between the law and his ban. They also couldn’t convince the judge to apply a Florida-based deceptive trade practices rule in California court, and the order concludes that Twitter probably didn’t violate it either. “The [terms of service] expressly provides that Twitter may suspend or terminate an account ‘at any time for any or no reason,’” says Judge Donato. “It also states that Twitter can remove or refuse to distribute any content. There is nothing cautious or misleading in these provisions.”
Trump had no more success trying to enforce Florida’s Stop Social Media Censorship Act, a rule that is currently tied to the courts anyway.
Trump cannot add new claims to an amended filing, and barring a dramatic change in the judge’s reasoning, the final decision will look much like this. Twitter could still voluntarily restore Trump’s account, and after billionaire Elon Musk’s upcoming purchase of him, that’s a plausible outcome. But the case continues a long chain of legal failures for people suing social networks for banning them.