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Columbia University’s free speech watchdog urges Ocasio-Cortez to stop blocking Twitter critics: ‘This practice is unconstitutional’

2019-08-29

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pictured attending a House Oversight Committee hearing in July. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Columbia University’s free speech watchdog is scolding Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over her Trumpian Twitter antics.

The uptown Ivy League school’s Knight First Amendment Institute — which successfully argued in court that President Trump violated free speech laws by blocking critics on Twitter — faulted Ocasio-Cortez on Thursday for allegedly engaging in the same “unconstitutional” behavior.

“We understand from news reports that you may be blocking some Twitter users from your @AOC account because of the views they have expressed,” Jameel Jaffer, the institute’s executive director, wrote in a letter to the Queens-Bronx lawmaker. “This practice is unconstitutional, and we are writing in the hope of dissuading you from engaging in it.”

Jaffer’s missive comes as Ocasio-Cortez is battling a lawsuit from former Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who argues the first-term congresswoman is violating his First Amendment rights by blocking him on Twitter.

As part of his suit, Hikind cites as legal ammunition a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit finding Trump couldn’t legally block Twitter users for the sole reason that he disagreed with their opinions. That decision stemmed from a lawsuit brought by the Knight First Amendment Institute.

Ocasio-Cortez’s legal team has asked a federal judge to throw out Hikind’s suit, arguing her @AOC handle is a personal account and that she thereby has the right to block whoever she wants.

But Jaffer countered his organization’s Trump lawsuit affirmed otherwise.

“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,” Jaffer wrote. “Notably, the Second 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.”

Ocasio-Cortez blocked Hikind after he took intense issue with her calling the Trump administration’s migrant detention centers “concentration camps.”

Spokespeople for Ocasio-Cortez did not immediately return requests for comment.

Hikind welcomed the institute’s letter and said he hopes his case is resolved swiftly.

“I’m sort of dumbfounded why AOC, in light of the court’s ruling on the Trump case, continues to block me,” Hikind told the Daily News. “It makes no sense...I think it’s cowardly for her to behave this way. Give me a break.”

Jaffer said he sympathizes with Ocasio-Cortez’s need to block people who pose a threat.

However, he said such security measures can be taken without violating the First Amendment.

“We would welcome the chance to work with you to develop a social media policy that both complies with the First Amendment and helps you address threats, abuse, and harassment,” he said.