The Supreme Court on Friday lifted restrictions on the Biden administration’s communication with social media companies while a lawsuit alleging that a slew of high-level federal officials strong-armed social media companies to censor free speech is ongoing.
The ruling pauses a preliminary injunction issued in response to what two lower courts found to be a “coordinated campaign” by senior Biden administration officials to censor disfavored views expressed on social networking platforms.
The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana originally issued the preliminary injunction on July 4, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit later upheld its ruling unanimously on Oct. 3.
The Supreme Court made its decision to lift the restrictions in a 4–3 vote. It will also take up the case.
Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch dissented from the majority’s decision to grant the application for the stay.
In his dissent, Justice Alito expressed concerns about government censorship of private speech and the potential for “heavy-handed tactics” influencing the presentation of views in the age of social media.
“At this time in the history of our country, what the Court has done, I fear, will be seen by some as giving the Government a green light to use heavy-handed tactics to skew the presentation of views on the medium that increasingly dominates the dissemination of news. That is most unfortunate,” wrote Justice Alito.
The stay will remain in effect until the Supreme Court renders its final judgment. This might be sometime late in the spring of 2024, Justice Alito noted in his dissenting opinion.
“Government censorship of private speech is antithetical to our democratic form of government, and therefore today’s decision is highly disturbing,” Justice Alito wrote.
‘Coordinated Campaign’ of Censorship
The “coordinated campaign” at the center of the landmark legal battle allegedly involved officials from the White House, the surgeon general, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the FBI, and a top U.S. cybersecurity agency.
The lower courts enjoined them from “coercing” or “actively controlling” social media companies’ decisions about the content posted on their platforms.
The case originated from allegations by Missouri and Louisiana, along with various private parties, that popular social media companies were either blocking users or downgrading posts with disfavored viewpoints on various controversial subjects.
These topics included the COVID-19 lab leak theory, pandemic lockdowns, vaccine side effects, election fraud, and the Hunter Biden laptop story.
Their lawsuit contended that federal government officials were responsible for “coercing, threatening, and pressuring” social media platforms to engage in censorship.
The lower court ruled in favor of these claims and issued a preliminary injunction, which an appellate court upheld.
The Court of Appeals confirmed the district court’s decision, characterizing it as a “coordinated campaign” that federal officials orchestrated, jeopardizing free speech postings by American citizens.
A unanimous three-judge panel upheld the district court’s core findings that “several officials—namely the White House, the Surgeon General, the CDC, and the FBI—likely coerced or significantly encouraged social-media platforms to moderate content, rendering those decisions state actions. In doing so, the officials likely violated the First Amendment.”
The lower court’s injunction prohibited Biden administration officials from coercing social media platforms to censor content and control their content moderation efforts.
In its application for a stay, the Biden administration argued that the injunction might prevent President Joe Biden and senior officials from “speaking to the public on matters of public concern.”
However, the Supreme Court clarified in its ruling that President Biden himself is not subject to the injunction, and the injunction only applies when the government crosses the line and begins to coerce or control others’ exercise of their free-speech rights.
The high court granted the Biden administration’s application for the stay, although the ruling said the federal government failed to establish a clear showing of irreparable harm.
“Instead of providing any concrete proof that ‘harm is imminent,’ the Government offers a series of hypothetical statements that a covered official might want to make in the future and that, it thinks, might be chilled,” wrote Justice Alito. “But hypotheticals are just that—speculation that the Government ‘may suffer irreparable harm at some point in the future,’ not concrete proof.”
From The Epoch Times