Judge Dismisses Biden Admin’s Motion to Dismiss Big Tech Collusion Case

Judge Dismisses Biden Admin’s Motion to Dismiss Big Tech Collusion Case
A photo shows the logo of the the American online social media and social networking service, Facebook and Twitter on a computer screen in Lille on Oct. 21, 2020. (Denis Charlet/AFP via Getty Images)

A federal court in Louisiana has denied the Biden administration’s motion to dismiss a landmark case alleging collusion between the federal government and Big Tech to censor disfavored users and viewpoints related to COVID-19.

In Missouri v. Biden, the states of Louisiana and Missouri allege that social media companies, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube, censored certain viewpoints and users on their platforms at the direction of, and under coercive pressure by, top Biden administration officials and various federal government agencies.

The defendants, including the Biden administration, sought to have the case dismissed, claiming the states lacked standing to bring the claims. However, the states argued that a previous ruling already established standing.

U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana Judge Terry Doughty dismissed the Biden administration’s motion to dismiss the case.

“The Court finds that the Complaint alleges significant encouragement and coercion that converts the otherwise private conduct of censorship on social media platforms into state action, and is unpersuaded by Defendants’ arguments to the contrary,” Doughty wrote in his ruling (pdf).

Doughty noted that he was “unpersuaded” by some of the government’s arguments, which attempted to write off the coercive threats as “isolated episodes in which federal officials engaged in rhetoric about misinformation on social media platforms.”

Such attempts to downplay the threats by claiming no single defendant had the unilateral authority to carry through on them “is clearly contradicted by the overwhelming weight of authority,” the judge added.

“Further, while the Government may certainly select the messages it wishes to convey, this freedom is limited by the more fundamental principle that a government entity may not employ threats to limit the free speech of private citizens,” Doughty wrote.

In the lawsuit, the states argue that the government’s alleged encouragement of Big Tech companies to engage in censorship exceeds its legal authority, violates the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), and infringes First Amendment rights.

The government filed a motion to dismiss the case claiming a lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

However, the judge disagreed.

Lawsuit ‘Plausibly Alleged State Action’

The Biden administration argued against the motion to dismiss, contending the states lacked standing to bring the claims and that there was no waiver of sovereign immunity for any of the claims against the defendants. However, the states argue the court had previously found standing to exist in a previous ruling.

Meanwhile, the states asked the court to declare that the censorship actions violated the U.S. Constitution and states’ constitutions, and requested an injunction to put a stop to the alleged unlawful conduct.

According to the court filing, the court ultimately found that the states had “plausibly alleged state action under the theories of joint participation, entwinement, and the combining of factors such as subsidization, authorization, and encouragement.”

“Plaintiffs have clearly and plausibly alleged that Defendants engaged in viewpoint discrimination and prior restraints,” the judge wrote.

Doughty noted in his ruling that, contrary to what the government has argued, the states are not seeking a “judicial gag order to prevent the executive branch from expressing its views on important matters of public concern.”

The judge cited a previous case, Matal v. Tam, to explain that while the government-speech doctrine is important, it is susceptible to “dangerous misuse.”

“If private speech could be passed off as government speech by simply affixing a government seal of approval, government could silence or muffle the expression of disfavored viewpoints,” the ruling stated.

“The Complaint alleges more than the exercise of permissible government speech. It alleges extensive and highly effective efforts by government officials to ‘silence or muffle the expression of disfavored viewpoints,’” the judge wrote.

“Accordingly, the Court finds that Plaintiffs have plausibly alleged state action under the theory of significant encouragement and/or coercion.”

Missouri v. Biden centers around Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which allows social media companies to censor content deemed offensive.

The lawsuit brought by the states argues that Section 230 has given broad immunity for censorship of disfavored viewpoints and that the government has used threats of amending or repealing this section to encourage more aggressive censorship on social media platforms.

The case is scheduled for a preliminary injunction hearing on May 12.

From The Epoch Times

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