A California judge has refused to throw out a lawsuit that accuses Twitter of violating the free speech rights of a leading white nationalist figure by banning his social media account.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Harold Kahn ruled in Jared Taylor's favor during a hearing Thursday on Twitter's request to dismiss the suit, court records show.
Taylor claims Twitter permanently suspended accounts belonging to him and hundreds of other far-right users in December based solely on their political views and affiliations.
The judge described Taylor's case as a "classic public interest lawsuit" and said it "goes to the heart of free speech principles that long precede our constitution," according to a transcript of the hearing.
"Now, it may be speech that you and I don't wish to enjoy, but that's not germane to the determination of whether it's public interest. Public interest doesn't have a flavor of ideology to it; public interest is whether it benefits the public," Kahn said.
Company attorney Patrick Carome argued that platforms like Twitter have a First Amendment editorial right to choose what kind of content to distribute.
"And a book store, or a newspaper editor, or a cable platform has a First Amendment right to make good, bad, horrible decisions about who and who does not get to speak on its platform and what content does and does not get to be on its platform," he said.
The judge asked Carome if he was arguing Twitter has an "absolute First Amendment right" to remove anybody from its platform, including on the basis of their religion or gender.
"Twitter doesn't do that," Carome responded, "but that is what the First Amendment guarantees to First Amendment actors."
Taylor is a Yale-educated, self-described "race realist" who founded an Oakton, Virginia-based, tax-exempt nonprofit called the New Century Foundation. He operates American Renaissance, an online magazine that touts a philosophy that it's "entirely normal" for whites to want to be a majority race.
Taylor's lawyers argue access to Twitter is "essential for meaningful participation in modern-day American democracy."
"At all times, Mr. Taylor has expressed his views with respect and civility," they wrote in a court filing. "At no time did Mr. Taylor or American Renaissance engage in insults, threats, or harassment, nor did they ever encourage anyone else to engage in such activity."
Twitter says it has made numerous changes to its platform and policies to protect users from abuse and hateful images, including making it a terms-of-service violation for a user to be affiliated with a "violent extremist group." Carome called that a "totally permissible, honorable rule for it to make."
"We may change those rules, as things evolve," he told the judge. "And, boy, have things evolved over the past five or six years."
Taylor's attorneys said the new policy against affiliations with violent extremist groups is "overbroad and viewpoint discriminatory."
A Twitter spokeswoman declined Friday to comment on the judge's decision.
One of Taylor's lawyers is Marc Randazza, who also represents neo-Nazi website publisher Andrew Anglin in a high-profile federal lawsuit brought by attorneys from the Southern Poverty Law Center. A Montana real estate agent sued Anglin last year for orchestrating an anti-Semitic online trolling campaign against her family.