Big Win for Free Speech–updated 9/8/23

7/4–Federal Judge Rules Against Biden Admin in Social Media Censorship Case

On July 4, 2023, Judge Terry Doughty of US District Court for the Western District of Louisiana granted a preliminary injunction that prohibits White House officials and numerous federal agencies from 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 posted on social-media platforms.”

Doughty found that defendants “significantly encouraged” and in some cases coerced “the social-media companies to such an extent that the decision [to modify or suppress content] should be deemed to be the decisions of the Government.” The Biden administration has argued that its communications with tech companies are permissible under the First Amendment and vital to counter misinformation about elections, COVID-19, and vaccines.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, a period perhaps best characterized by widespread doubt and uncertainty, the United States Government seems to have assumed a role similar to an Orwellian ‘Ministry of Truth,’” the judge wrote.

Doughty, a Trump nominee, made the ruling in a lawsuit filed by the Missouri and Louisiana attorneys general. Doughty ruled that plaintiffs “are likely to succeed on the merits on their claim that the United States Government, through the White House and numerous federal agencies, pressured and encouraged social-media companies to suppress free speech.”

The accompanying order forbids many federal agencies, including the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security and State, and Health and Human Services  to tell social media companies to remove posts.

On July 5, the DOJ filed a notice of appeal in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans alleging that Judge Doughty’s ruling prevents government officials and agencies from exercising their right to free speech.

Given that the Bill of Rights was written to protect citizens from the government, the idea that the government itself enjoys First Amendment protection in conducting its censorship operations was bound to be a tough sell.

State Dept. cancels election meetings with Facebook after “free speech” ruling

While continuing to assert the government’s “First Amendment right” to censor, the Biden administration took immediate steps to be compliant with Judge Doughty’s injunction. According to The Washington Post, “the State Department canceled its regular meeting Wednesday with Facebook officials to discuss 2024 election preparations and hacking threats.”

“State Department officials told Facebook that all future meetings, which had been held monthly, have been ‘canceled pending further guidance,’” the Post wrote, citing a source at Facebook.

9/8–Appeals Court Upholds Decision

On Friday, September 8, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a low court decision in Missouri v. Biden barring the federal government from working with social media companies to remove First Amendment-protected content.

“Defendants, and their employees and agents, shall take no actions, formal or informal, directly or indirectly, to coerce or significantly encourage social-media companies to remove, delete, suppress, or reduce, including through altering their algorithms, posted social-media content containing protected free speech,” the decision reads. “That includes, but is not limited to, compelling the platforms to act, such as by intimating that some form of punishment will follow a failure to comply with any request, or supervising, directing, or otherwise meaningfully controlling the social-media companies’ decision-making process.”

In a brilliant analysis of the decision, the Brownstone Institute explained:

Censorship is not just an attack on the free speech rights of the speaker; it is a coordinated effort against you, the citizen, and your right to information. It aims to perpetuate power by silencing dissent and destroying opposition…

While government officials told the press that their “content moderation policies” were “public health” initiatives, the legal case reveals their true motivation: to deny you the right to know their crimes, discuss their incompetence, or protest their policies.