Appeals Court Finds Biden Administration Violated The First Amendment When It Pushed For Social Media Censorship

Partially upholding the injunction.

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The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday that certain officials from President Joe Biden’s administration overstepped their bounds by pressuring social media platforms to limit specific content. The court affirmed that the White House, Surgeon General, CDC, and FBI likely infringed upon the First Amendment by urging or significantly influencing the decisions of social media companies to censor content.

We obtained a copy of the opinion for you here.

However, the court delineated its position, pointing out discrepancies with a previous lower court decision. It disagreed with the district court’s previous judgment that the NIAID, CISA, and State Department Officials had potentially violated the First Amendment.

The broader injunction originally issued by District of Louisiana Judge Terry A. Doughty in the Missouri v. Biden case sought to bar the Biden administration from pushing social media platforms to censor. This injunction was rooted in the belief that these actions suppressed protected speech.

In the lead-up to the 2020 elections, the FBI’s interactions with tech giants came under intense scrutiny. The court agreed that their collaboration wasn’t confined solely to addressing foreign threats and that the FBI extended its scope to encompass content emerging from within American borders.

The judges wrote that the Biden Administration likely “coerced the platforms to make their moderation decisions by way of intimidating messages and threats of adverse consequences,” and also found the White House “significantly encouraged the platforms’ decisions by commandeering their decision-making processes, both in violation of the First Amendment.”

Of the ten provisions set in the original injunction, the court decided to maintain the sixth one. This provision prohibits officials from exerting undue influence on companies to remove content. The language of this provision was revised to ensure clarity and to prevent misinterpretation. It emphasizes that government officials must not pressure social media platforms to censor protected free speech, even in indirect manners.

Elaborating on the decision, the court noted, “Under the modified injunction, the enjoined Defendants cannot coerce or significantly encourage a platform’s content-moderation decisions.” Any suggestion of adverse consequences, even if not directly communicated or realized, that may be perceived as punitive in nature by a reasonable individual, falls under this prohibition.

While the ruling marked a major development, the appeals court also accepted the Biden administration’s plea to pause the enforcement of the injunction for ten days, allowing them time to approach the Supreme Court.

“In an unprecedented, historic decision, the Fifth Circuit has recognized that the conduct of the White House, CDC, Surgeon General, and FBI violated Americans’ First Amendment rights. The government cannot coerce or encourage social media companies to censor views it dislikes. This decision vindicates the Plaintiffs’ rights and protects the free speech of all Americans,” said Jenin Younes, Litigation Counsel of the NCLA to Reclaim The Net. The NCLA represented their clients, censorship victims, Drs. Jayanta Bhattacharya, Martin Kulldorff and Aaron Kheriaty, and Ms. Jill Hines in the lawsuit. “The Biden Administration’s coordinated censorship campaign against the American people ends today. The Fifth Circuit’s decision details blatantly unlawful conduct by multiple agencies, and its order forbids the government’s widespread contempt for the First Amendment from continuing in no uncertain terms,” Mark Chenoweth, President and General Counsel, NCLA said.

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