May 27, 2024

A federal appeals court on Friday suspended a judge’s order that prevented much of the Biden administration from talking about content with social media sites.

The case could have major implications for the First Amendment and affect the behavior of social media companies and their cooperation with government agencies.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit said in a three-sentence order that a preliminary injunction issued this month by a federal judge in Louisiana will be put on hold “until a further order is issued by the court.” The appeals court also requested expedited oral arguments in the case.

In the lawsuit, the states of Missouri, Louisiana and five people said President Biden’s campaign, his administration and outside groups pressured social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube to remove content they objected to. These included conservative rhetoric about the coronavirus pandemic and the 2020 presidential election, as well as stories about the president’s son, Hunter Biden.

On July 4, Judge Terry A. Doughty of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana found that the plaintiffs were likely to be able to prove that the Biden administration engaged in illegal suppression of speech on social media, and the plaintiffs won. platform.

“If the allegations made by the plaintiffs are true,” Judge Doughty wrote, “this case involves arguably the largest assault on free speech in American history.”

Judge Doughty, appointed by President Donald J. Trump in 2017, said White House and administration officials used private communications and public statements to pressure tech giants to remove content related to the pandemic and the coronavirus vaccine.

The judge’s preliminary injunction prevented multiple agencies, including the Departments of Health and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security, from urging the platforms to remove “protected free speech.” Government agencies can still discuss content related to categories such as criminal activity, national security threats and foreign election interference, the order said.

Legal scholars say the broad nature of the ban could make it difficult for the government to comply. The Justice Department appealed the order a day after it was issued.

The case unfolds amid a bitter partisan battle over online speech. For years, Republicans have accused Silicon Valley companies of disproportionately removing posts from the accounts of conservative publishers and celebrities. Democrats say tech platforms are not removing enough content, allowing false, hateful and violent messages to spread widely.

Republican lawmakers in Texas and Florida passed laws in 2021 prohibiting social media sites from removing certain political content.

The tech industry has challenged these laws on First Amendment grounds, arguing that companies have the right to tailor their platforms to their needs. Many experts believe these legal challenges will eventually reach the Supreme Court.

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