A federal appeals court has ruled that the Biden administration cannot threaten or significantly influence social media companies to censor content, out of fear of violating the First Amendment.
On Friday, July 2, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals partially upheld a lower court’s ruling in Missouri vs. Biden that barred the FBI, the Centers for Disease Control, the White House, and the surgeon general from threatening to punish social media companies for the content they post. The ruling specifically named White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy as violators of free speech.
According to the decision, government agencies and their employees must “take no actions, formal or informal, directly or indirectly, to coerce or significantly encourage social-media companies to remove, delete, suppress, or reduce, including through altering their algorithms, posted social-media content containing protected free speech.” However, the decision does not include injunctions against the Department of Health and Human Services, the Census Bureau, and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, nor did it entirely uphold Judge Terry A. Doughty’s original ruling.
The decision followed revelations that a White House official had asked Facebook to limit the reach of conservative news outlets and pro-Trump voices in order to promote their COVID agenda. Documents released by Congress indicated that Rob Flaherty, the former White House Digital Director, had asked Facebook to manipulate its algorithms to favor programmed sources like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
The states of Missouri and Louisiana had originally filed the lawsuit, arguing that the Biden administration’s actions constitute “the most egregious violations of the First Amendment in the history of the United States of America.” The ruling has been hailed by both Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry as a major win against censorship and totalitarianism.
The ruling against the Biden administration serves as a reminder that the First Amendment remains an integral part of the fabric of our democracy and that the government cannot take any action that could be seen as stifling free speech. It marks a victory for proponents of free speech, as well as a reminder to the government that it must act within its legal boundaries to ensure that everyone’s rights are respected.