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.
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.