The Biden administration received a reprieve on Friday from a judge’s order blocking several government agencies and officials from contacting social media companies.
A three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit granted a temporary stay “until further orders” are given and called for expediting oral arguments in the case, which now appear to be set for August 10.
The ruling is part of a lawsuit brought in 2022 by the GOP attorneys general of Louisiana and Missouri over alleged collusion between the federal government and social media companies such as Twitter and YouTube to censor “disfavored” speech in violation of the First Amendment.
U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty, who was nominated to his position by former President Donald Trump, granted a preliminary injunction on July 4 while recognizing allegations of coordinated suppression of information on a range of topics ranging from COVID to elections labeled by the defendants as “misinformation,” “disinformation,” or “malinformation.”
The order restricted a number of officials, including White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, and agencies from meeting or communicating with social media companies for the purpose of “urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing” in any manner the “removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech.” Some exceptions related to flagging criminal behavior, national security concerns, and election tampering were included in the order.
“We must build a wall of separation between tech and state to preserve our First Amendment right to free, fair, and open debate,” said Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, who called the judge’s order “a huge win for the right to freely speak without government censorship.”
DOJ lawyers responded by filing a notice of appeal and asking for a stay from the appeals court after Doughty rejected the request for a pause. Their filing said the preliminary injunction would “cause the government and thus the public to suffer irreparable injury” while raising concerns about the ban being too vague and overbroad.
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“We are going to continue to promote responsible actions to protect public health, safety, and security when confronted by challenges like a deadly pandemic and foreign attacks on our election,” Jean-Pierre told reporters last week.
She added that social media companies have a “critical responsibility” to take account of the effects their platforms have on the American people and to “make independent choices about the information they present.”
Author: Daniel Chaitin