Calling it “the most massive attack against free speech in the United States,” a federal judge took early action in a lawsuit to stop the Biden administration from pressuring social media companies to silence viewpoints critical of the president and his policies.
Judge Terry A. Doughty of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana issued a preliminary injunction and 155-page opinion on Independence Day.
The injunction is in response to Missouri v. Biden, a lawsuit filed by the attorneys general of Louisiana and Missouri and private individuals. They are suing the Biden administration for pressuring and colluding with social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to “suppress conservative-leaning free speech” on the origin of COVID-19, the efficiency of masks, the effectiveness of COVID-19 shots, the lockdowns, the 2020 election, the Hunter Biden laptop, and other issues.
“Although this case is still relatively young, and at this stage the Court is only examining it in terms of Plaintiffs’ likelihood of success on the merits, the evidence produced thus far depicts an almost dystopian scenario,” Doughty wrote. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, a period perhaps best characterized by widespread doubt and uncertainty, the United States Government seems to have assumed a role similar to an Orwellian ‘Ministry of Truth.’”
Biden Admin Pushes Back
The federal government petitioned to stop the preliminary injunction.
“The district court has rejected the government’s attempt to stay that ruling, and now it has an emergency petition to have the Circuit stay it,” said John J. Vecchione, a senior litigator at the New Civil Liberties Alliance, which is representing the private plaintiffs in the case.
“We expect the injunction to stay in place while the appeal continues, at least because the government has demonstrated no harm to it from the preliminary injunction,” said Vecchione.
The government cannot show the injunction is causing any harm, says Vecchione.
“For one week, since July 4th 2023, the Government has been under an order not to coerce the social media companies into removing speech protected by the First Amendment from their platforms. It can point to no great catastrophe emerging from Americans using social media presumably free of government coercion,” said Vecchione.
“Our clients were silenced in the virtual public square by exactly the sort of unconstitutional actions the government evidently wants to continue while its appeal proceeds,” said Vecchione. “That harm should not be renewed while the Fifth Circuit considers the government’s arguments as to why it should be able to renew this censorship while we still have a First Amendment.”
On July 14, the Fifth Circuit granted a temporary stay of the injunction. The three-judge panel included Judge James Graves, an Obama nominee, Judge Carl Stewart, a Clinton nominee, and Judge Andrew Oldham who was nominated by Donald Trump.
Threats and Pressure
The injunction stops more than a dozen federal agencies and specific individuals from talking to social media companies for “the purpose of urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner the removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech.” The ban does not apply to matters involving crime or national security.
Judge Doughty, on page 119 of his decision, addressed the defendant’s argument that its actions are protected “government” speech.
“[I]t was not the public statements that were the problem,” wrote Doughty. “It was the alleged use of government agencies and employees to coerce and/or significantly encourage social-media platforms to suppress free speech on those platforms.”
The judge’s opinion points out the government used “various meetings, emails, follow-up contacts, and the threat of amending Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act” to intimidate the media outlets. At one point then-White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki mentioned to reporters that Biden supported a “robust antitrust program” and there could be “legal consequences” for social media companies that do not stop “misinformation,” the judge’s opinion notes.
‘Vast Censorship Enterprise’
Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry filed the motion for the injunction as part of their lawsuit. The case highlighted 1,400 facts from more than 20,000 pages of evidence to show a “vast censorship enterprise” coordinated among dozens of agencies in the federal government, a news release from Bailey’s office states.
“We must build a wall of separation between tech and state to preserve our First Amendment right to free, fair, and open debate,” said Bailey in a statement.
“Today, we won an historic injunction against the Biden administration, preventing it from censoring the core political speech of ordinary Americans on social media,” said Attorney General Jeff Landry in a press statement. “The evidence in our case is shocking and offensive, with senior federal officials deciding that they could dictate what Americans can and cannot say on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other platforms about COVID-19, elections, criticism of the government, and more.”
Big media outlets are taking the government’s side in this censorship case, says Jeffrey Tucker, president of the Brownstone Institute.
“There was a time when the media was the biggest champion of the ‘public’s right to know,’” Tucker told Health Care News. “Now everyone from The Washington Post to Slate denies the government was involved in any censorship. Judge Doughty meticulously described what the government was doing, who was doing it, and when. Did any of these reporters even read the decision?”
In an op-ed in The Epoch Times on July 11, Tucker commented on why the media is in denial.
“There’s no question about why: they want monopoly control of the public conversation because they want to be in charge of what you think,” wrote Tucker.
AnneMarie Schieber (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the managing editor of Health Care News.
See related article, White House Pressured Facebook to Censor, AGs’ Lawsuit Reveals, February 7, 2023
This article was updated on July 18 to reflect the temporary stay of the injunction by the Fifth Circuit.