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PEN America Sues Trump to Stop Him From Violating First Amendment

October 16, 2018, 11:48 PM UTC

A prominent literary and human rights organization is suing President Donald Trump over statements, demands, and actions he has taken that the group says in its suit violate constitutional protections offered by the First Amendment. PEN America accused the president of violating his oath of office.

The lawsuit asks a court to prevent the president from using the levels of government in any fashion to “retaliate against, intimidate, or otherwise constrain speech critical of him or his Administration.”

In the lawsuit, the group distinguishes between Trump’s general statements, such as calling the journalists “the enemy of the American people” and his specific ones, in which he calls out individual journalists, publishers and owners, and media outlets. It noted that these attacks, “while troubling and anti-democratic, are not the basis upon which Plaintiff PEN America seeks relief.”

Rather, the lawsuit lists a number of incidents and repeated behavior, including:

  • Trump demanded that Jeff Bezos, Amazon, and The Washington Post, which Bezos owns personally, be punished because of the Post‘s coverage of him. This includes reports that Trump told the U.S. Postmaster General to double Amazon’s delivery rates, and issued an executive order requiring a review of what it charges Amazon and other companies.
  • The president has regularly threatened CNN and its parent company,Time Warner. The lawsuit cites a Justice Department lawsuit to block the merger between AT&T and Time Warner.
  • Trump regularly threatens to withdraw White House press credentials of individual reporters.
  • The president has threatened to challenge broadcast licenses for television stations owned by or carrying NBC and other networks.

PEN may face difficulty in establishing standing—or the right to bring a suit—as it doesn’t directly represent any of the specific parties it alleges that Trump has engaged in a suppression of free speech or the intent to do so. It notes that some members work for organizations covered by the president’s statements and directives.

The suit doesn’t ask for a financial reward, only the costs of litigation. The group said its legal counsel is the nonpartisan, nonprofit Protect Democracy and the Yale Law School Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic.