The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans has ruled on Friday that the Biden administration may have run afoul of the First Amendment in its efforts to exert pressure on social media platforms regarding contentious COVID-19 content.
This ruling has sparked debate over the government’s role in regulating online speech.
A panel of judges, all GOP nominees, concluded that the White House, health officials, and the FBI may have infringed on First Amendment rights by pressuring technology companies to suppress or remove content related to COVID-19 and the 2020 election, Fox news reported.
The judges argued, in their 75-page verdict, that these efforts amounted to coercion, potentially violating free speech rights.
The panel of judges, which is made up of two Bush nominees and one Trump nominee, asserted that it is inappropriate for President Biden, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the FBI, and the surgeon general to exert pressure on social media platforms to remove content they deemed troublesome.
They did, however, overturn a previous Louisiana judge’s ruling that prohibited the government from contacting social media platforms to encourage content removal.
The court’s decision now gives the administration ten days to seek a Supreme Court review, leaving the fate of this case in the hands of the highest court in the land, Bloomberg Law reported.
“The officials have engaged in a broad pressure campaign designed to coerce social-media companies into suppressing speakers, viewpoints, and content disfavored by the government,” the three-judge panel wrote.
“The harms that radiate from such conduct extend far beyond just the Plaintiffs; it impacts every social-media user.”
Nevertheless, this order narrows the scope of the injunction that had previously targeted the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services, according to the NPR.
The new ruling applies exclusively to the White House, the surgeon general, the CDC, and the FBI.
This case originated from a lawsuit filed by the states of Missouri and Louisiana, a conservative website owner, and four individuals who held dissenting views regarding the establishment’s COVID-19 policies, according to Fox News.
They accused government officials of coercing social media platforms into removing content covering topics like election fraud, the FBI’s handling of Hunter Biden’s laptop, and the COVID-19 pandemic, USA Today reported.
Fifth Circuit just unanimously affirmed Judge Doughty’s injunction against White House, CDC, FBI and others — giving Americans and #FreedomOfSpeech a major win against censorship, totalitarianism, and Biden. #FirstAmendment
— AG Jeff Landry (@AGJeffLandry) September 8, 2023
Viewed by many as at least a partial victory for conservatives, the court’s ruling also found that the administration had used “intimidating messages and threats of adverse consequences” to coerce social media platforms into making content moderation decisions, which the court deemed a violation free speech right.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry hailed the decision on X, formerly Twitter, as a “major win against censorship,” emphasizing that it underscores the importance of protecting freedom of speech regardless of political ideology.
Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey also took to X to celebrate the ruling, posting: “The Fifth Circuit has upheld the district court’s order in our free speech case, Missouri v. Biden, enjoining the White House, Surgeon General, CDC, & FBI from violating the First Amendment rights of millions of Americans.”
🚨BREAKING: The Fifth Circuit has upheld the district court’s order in our free speech case, Missouri v. Biden, enjoining the White House, Surgeon General, CDC, & FBI from violating the First Amendment rights of millions of Americans.
— Attorney General Andrew Bailey (@AGAndrewBailey) September 8, 2023
In response to the ruling, the White House said in a statement, “DOJ is reviewing the court’s decision and will evaluate its options in this case.”
The administration reiterated its stance that social media platforms should take responsibility for the impact of their platforms on the American people while making independent choices about the information they present, according to USA Today.
“Our consistent view remains that social media platforms have a critical responsibility to take account of the effects their platforms are having on the American people, but make independent choices about the information they present.”
However, the Fifth Circuit did also criticize the injunction issued by U.S. District Court Judge Terry A. Doughty, a Trump nominee, as “overbroad” and potentially limiting legal government actions.
The appeals court highlighted that many provisions in the injunction were “duplicative” and “unnecessary.”
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.
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