A federal appeals court on Friday halted a judge’s order that had prevented much of the Biden administration from speaking to social media sites about the content.
The case could have significant First Amendment implications and affect the conduct of social media companies and their cooperation with government agencies.
In its three-sentence order, a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit said the preliminary injunction issued this month by a federal judge in Louisiana would be set aside “pending further orders from the court”. The appeals court also called for expedited oral arguments in the case.
In the lawsuit, Missouri, Louisiana and five people said President Biden’s campaign, his administration and outside groups pressured social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube to remove content they opposed. That content included conservative claims about the coronavirus pandemic and the 2020 presidential election, and a story about Hunter Biden, the president’s son.
The plaintiffs won a victory on July 4 when Judge Terry A. Doughty of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana found it likely they could prove that the Biden administration engaged in an unlawful effort to silence discourse on social networks. platforms
“If the allegations made by the plaintiffs are true,” Judge Doughty wrote, “the present case arguably involves the most massive attack on free speech in American history.”
Judge Doughty, who was appointed by President Donald J. Trump in 2017, said White House and administration officials had used private communications and public pronouncements to pressure tech giants to remove pandemic-related content and covid vaccines.
The judge’s preliminary injunction blocked multiple agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security, from urging the platforms to remove “protected free speech.” The order said government agencies could still discuss content related to categories including criminal activity, national security threats and foreign election interference.
Jurists have said the broad nature of the injunction may make it difficult for the government to comply. The Justice Department appealed the order the day after it was issued.
The case is moving forward amid a pitched partisan battle over online speech. Republicans have for years accused Silicon Valley companies of disproportionately removing posts from the accounts of conservative publishers and personalities. Democrats have said that technology platforms are not removing enough content, allowing false, hateful and violent messages to spread widely.
Republican lawmakers in Texas and Florida passed laws in 2021 that prohibit social media sites from removing certain political content.
The tech industry has challenged those laws on First Amendment grounds, saying companies have the right to moderate their platforms as they see fit. Many experts believe those legal challenges will eventually make it to the Supreme Court.