A federal judge, in an extraordinary ruling, has barred key agencies within President Joe Biden’s administration from communicating with social media companies about certain online statements in an ongoing trial that could have profound implications for the First Amendment.
The injunction, issued July 4 in Louisiana by Donald Trump-appointed U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty, prohibits the FBI and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, among others, from speaking to platforms “to urge, encourage, and to exert pressure”. or in any way bring about the removal, deletion, suppression or reduction of any protected free speech content.”
The ruling – which could hamper the government’s attempts to combat false and potentially dangerous claims about vaccines and elections – is a victory for Republican attorneys general in Louisiana and Missouri, who have claimed that the federal government is vicious in its attempts to spread disinformation about Covid-19 19 went too far and unfounded voter fraud narratives.
Judge Doughty, who has not yet rendered a final ruling, stated in his injunction that the Republican plaintiffs “presented evidence of massive efforts by defendants, from the White House to federal agencies, to suppress statements based on their substance.”
He made some exceptions that would allow the government to warn platforms about national security threats, criminal activity or voter suppression.
The legal challenge follows persistent claims by right-wing officials and Republican lawmakers that the federal government — particularly Democratic officials — conspired with “big tech” to silence conservative voices, following the latest ruling.
Attorneys general for the Republican Party in the case have accused government agencies of a “systemic and systematic campaign” to control speech on social media platforms that gained momentum during the Trump administration and made a “quantum leap” under President Biden.
Lawyers for the Biden administration have denied such claims, warning that an injunction could undermine national security efforts, citing programs developed by government agencies to combat disinformation after the 2016 election.
The Independent has reached out to the White House for comment.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who originally filed the lawsuit with Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, called the verdict a “great victory for the First Amendment this Independence Day.”
Although the case originated with these Republican officials, several other plaintiffs added their names to the case, arguing that they were also unfairly targeted after spreading disinformation online.
Plaintiffs also include vaccine conspiracy theorist and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Jim Hoft, founder of far-right conspiracy theory-powered website The Gateway Pundit and defendant in a defamation lawsuit brought by poll workers who have received death threats for falsely reporting about them in the 2020 presidential election.
This is an evolving story