Biden Admin Appeals Ban on Contacting Social Media Firms in Censorship Lawsuit

Biden Admin Appeals Ban on Contacting Social Media Firms in Censorship Lawsuit
President Joe Biden speaks at a political rally at the Philadelphia Convention Center in Philadelphia on June 17, 2023. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo)

The Biden administration has filed an appeal asking the court to overturn a historic ruling in that blocks government agencies from contacting or working with big tech companies to censor posts on social media.

Attorneys acting on behalf of President Joe Biden and a host of federal agencies on Wednesday filed a notice of appeal (pdf) with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in Louisiana, seeking to overturn a landmark ruling the day prior in a censorship-by-proxy lawsuit brought by Louisiana and Missouri.

Republican attorneys general in Louisiana and Missouri sued Mr. Biden and several government agencies in May 2022, accusing them of pushing social media companies to censor posts and take down accounts in what their complaint (pdf) alleged was one of the “greatest assaults” on freedom of speech by federal officials in America’s history.

In a preliminary injunction (pdf) on July 4, Judge Terry A. Doughty of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana sided with the plaintiffs. He ruled that that various government agencies, including the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Department of Justice (DOJ), are prohibited from taking a range of actions regarding social media companies, including communicating with them about censoring content.

The Biden administration was widely expected to appeal the ruling and The Epoch Times has learned that DOJ officials anticipate a quick decision by the appeals court to block the various prohibitions that the plaintiffs had hailed as a win for free speech.

The plaintiffs, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, have both pledged to fight the appeal.

Mr. Landry said in a statement that he expected the appeal and vowed to “aggressively defend it,” adding that he thinks the case will eventually be heard before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We’re not done yet,” Mr. Bailey wrote in a post on social media. “We’re just getting started.”

‘Shocking, Appalling, and Concerning’

Mr. Doughty, a Trump appointee, wrote in Wednesday’s decision that the Republican attorneys general who sued the Biden administration “have produced evidence of a massive effort by Defendants, from the White House to federal agencies, to suppress speech based on its content.”

The judge said that the agencies named in the lawsuit, along with their staff members, are prohibited from meeting or contacting by phone, email, or text message or “engaging in any communication of any kind with social-media companies urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner for removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech.”

The agencies are also barred from flagging content on posts on social media platforms and forwarding them to the companies with requests for action, such as removing or otherwise suppressing their reach.

Encouraging or otherwise egging on social media companies to change their guidelines for the removal, suppression, or reduction of content that contains protected free speech by the government is also forbidden.

While the judge’s ruling isn’t final, the preliminary injunction was seen as a win by the Republican attorneys general, who have accused the Biden administration of pressuring big tech companies to engage in a censorship-by-proxy scheme.

“This could be arguably one of the most important First Amendment cases in modern history,” Mr. Landry told The Epoch Times’s “American Thought Leaders” in an interview following the ruling.

“If you look at the opinion that the judge lays out, he takes from our argument that this is basically one of the most massive undertakings of the federal government to limit American speech in the history of our country. The things that we uncovered, in this case, should be both shocking, appalling, and concerning for all Americans.

“I think that this injunction today certainly begins curtailing government action, and telling social media companies what they can and cannot allow on their platforms,” Mr. Landry said.

‘All Were Suppressed’

Mr. Landry gave examples of censorship-by-proxy at the hands of the Biden administration, including email chains between high-ranking White House officials and social media platforms targeting specific individuals, such as presidential hopeful Robert Kennedy Jr. and media personality Tucker Carlson, “directly targeting them and asking those social media platforms to take their content down.”

“There are a number of things that as we uncovered information in the discovery process of this case, that was shocking to us, all of that was presented to this judge,” Mr. Landry said. “And that’s what I think was compelling him to eventually do what he did today, which is to order and give us the injunction.”

The judge wrote in an accompanying memorandum that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of the case in their bid to prove that Biden administration used its power to silence the opposition.

“Opposition to COVID-19 vaccines; opposition to COVID-19 masking and lockdowns; opposition to the lab-leak theory of COVID-19; opposition to the validity of the 2020 election; opposition to President Biden’s policies; statements that the Hunter Biden laptop story was true; and opposition to policies of the government officials in power. All were suppressed,” Mr. Doughty wrote in the memo.

The judge did make some exceptions in his order, however, allowing government officials to contact social media companies to alert them of criminal activity or threats to national security.

Also allowed are contacts notifying social media companies about posts intending to mislead voters about voting requirements or procedures, as well as communicating with companies about suppressing posts that aren’t protected free speech.

The prohibition to contact or otherwise work with social media companies on content containing protected free speech applies to various named agencies as well as their agents, officers, employees, and contractors.

The DOJ told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement that it would not comment on pending litigation.

More than 50 officials in the Biden administration across a dozen agencies were involved in efforts to pressure big tech companies to censor alleged misinformation, according to documents released last year.

From The Epoch Times