The Supreme Court on Monday vacated an appeals court ruling that President Donald J. Trump had violated the First Amendment by blocking people from his Twitter account after they posted critical comments.
A unanimous three-judge panel of the appeals court ruled in 2019 that Mr. Trump’s account was a public forum from which he was powerless to exclude people based on their viewpoints.
The Supreme Court’s move was expected, as Mr. Trump is no longer president and Twitter has permanently suspended his account.
More surprising was a 12-page concurring opinion from Justice Clarence Thomas musing on what he called the dangerous power a few private companies have over free speech.
“Today’s digital platforms provide avenues for historically unprecedented amounts of speech, including speech by government actors,” he wrote. “Also unprecedented, however, is the concentrated control of so much speech in the hands of a few private parties. We will soon have no choice but to address how our legal doctrines apply to highly concentrated, privately owned information infrastructure such as digital platforms.”
No other justice joined the opinion, and Justice Thomas’s views on the First Amendment can be idiosyncratic. But his opinion reflected widespread frustration, particularly among conservatives, about letting private companies decide what the public may read and see.
The appeals court “feared that then-President Trump cut off speech by using the features that Twitter made available to him,” Justice Thomas wrote. “But if the aim is to ensure that speech is not smothered, then the more glaring concern must perforce be the dominant digital platforms themselves.”