A federal judge Monday denied the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) request to stay a ruling that places limits on government communications with social media firms, denying the White House’s argument that an order could put a damper on law enforcement activity online.
U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty wrote that his order last week had created exceptions for communications for cyberattacks, election interference, and national security threats. The DOJ and Biden administration, he wrote, did not provide any specific examples “would provide grave harm to the American people or our democratic processes.”
“Although this Preliminary Injunction involves numerous agencies, it is not as broad as it appears,” Mr. Doughty wrote Monday. “It only prohibits something the Defendants have no legal right to do—contacting 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.”
Further, the judge also argued that Republican attorneys general who brought the suit are most likely going to prevail in proving that federal agencies and officials “significantly encouraged,” “coerced,” or “jointly participated” in allegedly suppressing social media posts that included information that was critical of COVID-19 vaccines or questioned the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
In response, lawyers for the DOJ Biden administration filed an emergency stay of the injunction at the 5th U.S. District Court of Appeals. They argued that Mr. Doughty’s ruling was too vague and broad.
“The district court identified no evidence suggesting that a threat accompanied any request for the removal of content. Indeed, the order denying the stay—presumably highlighting the ostensibly strongest evidence—referred to ‘a series of public media statements,’” the administration wrote Monday.
It came as the attorneys general for Missouri and Louisiana have submitted a petition to oppose the Biden administration’s motion to stay an injunction against its efforts allowing it to contact social media firms about a range of online content, including its efforts to flag so-called misinformation.
Over the weekend, the two states filed (pdf) a memorandum of opposition to the administration’s motion, coming days after a federal judge partially granted an injunction that blocks various Biden administration officials and government agencies such as the Justice Department and the FBI from working with big tech firms to censor posts on social media. It came in response to a lawsuit filed by the attorneys general, who accused the White House and various federal agencies of putting pressure on social media firms to take down posts or suspend accounts.
“Evidence in this case overwhelmingly shows that the way the Government supposedly ‘prevent[s] grave harm to the American people and our democratic processes’ is to pressure and induce social-media platforms to censor disfavored viewpoints on COVID-19, elections, and other core political speech,” they argued on Sunday.
“In the end, their position is fundamentally defiant toward the Court’s judgment,” they added. “It demonstrates that the Government will continue violating First Amendment rights by censoring core political speech on social media as soon as it can get away with it. The motion to stay should be denied.”
Mr. Doughty had ruled last Tuesday that the Biden administration must cease contacting social media companies about a broad range of online content, including the administration’s efforts to flag alleged misinformation. The judge said some of the administration’s past communications with social media companies violated the First Amendment, and said that during the pandemic the government “assumed a role similar to an Orwellian Ministry of Truth.”
A Trump-appointed judge for the Western District of Louisiana, Mr. Doughty had written on July 4 that the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the Department of Justice, and the enters for Disease Control and Prevention cannot take a range of actions targeting social media posts, companies, and users of the platform.
Several officials are specifically named in the order, including Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Health and Human Services; Dr. Hugh Auchincloss, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy; White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, and others.
The social media companies that were included in the lawsuit include Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and WhatsApp, as well as Chinese Communist Party-linked TikTok and WeChat, among other platforms. The Republican attorneys general brought their lawsuit against the administration in 2022, accusing the government of trying to censor conservative viewpoints.
The ruling marked a win for Republicans who sued the Biden administration, saying it was using the COVID-19 pandemic and the threat of alleged misinformation as an excuse to target views that went outside the mainstream narrative.
“This could be arguably one of the most important First Amendment cases in modern history,” Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry told The Epoch Times’ “American Thought Leaders” in an interview after 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,” Mr. Landry, a Republican, added. “The things that we uncovered, in this case, should be both shocking, appalling, and concerning for all Americans.”
Last week, the DOJ filed an appeal of the ruling and sought to lift the injunction in a filing made to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Previously, U.S. officials have claimed they were aiming to tamp down alleged misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines to curb preventable deaths, which has long been decried by free speech advocates, conservatives, and doctors who promote alternative therapies for COVID-19.
At the same time, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on July 5 that the Biden administration “certainly disagree[s] with this decision” and will “continue to promote responsible actions to protect public health, safety, and security when confronted by challenges like a deadly pandemic and foreign attacks on our election.”
“Our view remains that social media platforms have a critical responsibility to take action or to take account of the effects of their platforms are having to the American people but make independent choices about the information they present. They are a private, as you know, entity, and it is their responsibility to—you know, to act accordingly. And so, we’re going to continue to be responsible in that way,” Ms. Jean-Pierre added.
Tom Ozimek contributed to this report.
From The Epoch Times