A writers group that promotes free expression sued US President Donald Trump on Tuesday, claiming he is abusing his authority to “stifle” the rights of the press.
PEN America filed the complaint in New York federal court asking for a ruling that the president is engaging in “unconstitutional actions aimed at suppressing speech” under the First Amendment of the constitution. It also seeks an injunction barring Trump or any member of his administration from threatening the media for coverage he does not like.
The association — formed in 1922 with an acronym for “Poets, Essayists, Novelists” — acknowledged that Trump has the right to attack or denigrate the press for news stories he dislikes.
“However, when President Trump crosses the line and threatens to use his authority to punish the media, or actually does so, it is vital for the courts to step in and affirm that such threats and reprisals are unconstitutional,” the group said in a statement.
“We have worked closely with leading First Amendment scholars and practitioners in private practice and academia in order to hone a request to the court to do just that.” The lawsuit was joined by the nonprofit group Protect Democracy and the Yale Law School Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic.
The move comes amid longstanding tensions between the media and Trump and his frequent complaints of “fake news” for negative coverage of his administration.
The groups claimed Trump crossed a line by threatening to retaliate against news organizations and journalists over their coverage. This includes threatening to take away broadcast licenses or credentials for NBC or CNN, and allegedly seeking retaliation against Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos by calling for higher postal rates for Amazon, of which Bezos is the chief executive.
“Through his actions, Defendant Trump has intentionally conveyed to all writers and journalists that if he objects to their coverage, they may be subject to retaliation by the federal government,” the lawsuit says. “That conduct violates the constitution.” The lawsuit said Trump’s actions also appear to illegally threaten internet firms over the filtering of their news feeds.
It said the September leak of a draft executive order to instruct federal law enforcement and antitrust agencies to open investigations into social media companies “was to show these companies and other speakers the president dislikes that his White House has the power to significantly injure them with a simple leak if it dislikes their content.