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 March 18, 2024

Supreme Court agrees to hear the Biden social media case

The Supreme Court heard arguments about the Biden administration's legal dispute over social network content moderation. 

Specifically, the justices will hear arguments over whether federal authorities violated the First Amendment by pressuring platforms to remove posts that they deemed to be false or misleading, as The Hill reported.

The case was initiated by two Republican attorneys general in opposition to the administration's efforts to stop disinformation online, which they characterized as a "campaign of censorship" by the government.

The Allegations

It was alleged that federal officials used social media platforms to "identify disfavored speakers, viewpoints, and content" through “coordinated and colluded” exchanges.

The Biden administration's efforts to control online disinformation on the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 election's validity, at a time when vaccine skepticism was widespread, were at the center of the case.

“The question is how you draw the line between government speech that is permissible and government speech that imposes coercive power on the platforms — or excessive entanglement, excessive cooperation between private speakers and the government,” said Bob Corn-Revere, chief counsel for the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.

“And that’s the difficult line that the court is going to try and draw,” he said.

Case History

After ruling in favor of the attorneys general last summer, a federal judge in Louisiana banned representatives of the Biden administration from contacting social media businesses about "any manner the removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction" of anything that contained "protected free speech."

A three-judge panel on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals modified the district court judge's order in September after court observers criticized the ruling as being too broad.

Federal agencies cannot "coerce" social media platforms to remove posts that contradict the government's position, the 5th Circuit panel ruled, concurring with the lower court that Biden administration officials probably did violate the First Amendment by pressuring social media companies to remove particular content.

Initially, the judges of the Fifth Circuit determined that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the FBI, and the White House had crossed the line into coercion, although the State Department, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases had not.

Case Revisited

Upon revisiting the case, the panel concluded that CISA had indeed overreached. Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, one of the two Republican attorneys general who filed the complaint, stated his team is looking forward to "dismantling Joe Biden’s vast censorship enterprise at the nation’s highest court" when the Supreme Court heard the case.

According to the Biden administration, preventing communication between federal agents and social media firms restricts the government's capacity to handle public policy issues and safeguard national security, threats and relay information.

“Of course, the government cannot punish people for expressing different views, and it cannot accomplish the same thing indirectly by threatening to punish private actors for disseminating those views,” the Justice Department wrote in its brief to the Supreme Court.

“But so long as the government seeks to inform and persuade rather than to compel, its speech poses no First Amendment concern — even if government officials state their views in strong terms, and even if private actors change their speech or conduct in response,” the brief continued.

Written By:
Charlotte Tyler

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