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Supreme Court Rules For Biden in Government Censorship Coercion Case

The Supreme Court. (Joe Sohm/Dreamstime/TNS)
June 26, 2024

The U.S. Supreme Court sided with President Joe Biden’s administration on Wednesday, ruling they had not violated First Amendment free speech rights with calls for social media companies to remove or suppress content questioning the 2020 election results or the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.

The states of Missouri and Louisiana and five individuals filed a lawsuit in 2022, alleging various executive branch officials had unduly pressured social media platforms like Facebook and X (formerly Twitter) to censor or suppress disfavored political content. The individual plaintiffs included three doctors, a news website owner, and a healthcare activist who had alleged social media platforms removed or suppressed their COVID-19 and election-related content between 2020 and 2023 due to pressure from executive branch officials.

A federal district court and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the plaintiffs in the case, finding some of the government’s communications were unduly coercive, and barring the Biden administration from continuing certain contacts to social media and internet search platforms. But the Biden administration appealed the ruling up to the Supreme Court, which ruled 6-3 on Wednesday in their favor.

The majority opinion, authored by Justice Amy Coney Barrett, and supported by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, and Ketanji Brown Jackson concludes neither the states nor the individuals in the case had standing to bring their legal claims. The majority opinion denies there is a concrete connection between coercive statements by government officials to internet platforms and ensuing content moderation decisions by those platforms.

“The plaintiffs and the dissent suggest that the platforms continue to suppress their speech according to policies initially adopted under Government pressure,” the majority opinion states. “That may be true. But the plaintiffs have a redressability problem.”

The majority wrote that it did not see a continued concern of government pressure against these internet platforms and that said platforms appear “free to enforce, or not to enforce” their content moderation policies, “even those tainted by initial governmental coercion.”

Justice Samuel Alito authored a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch. Alito noted large social media platforms like Facebook are susceptible to federal enforcement of anti-trust rules and legislation and thus have a powerful incentive to stay within the good graces of federal regulatory authorities and officials.

“The record in this case shows that high-ranking officials skillfully exploited Facebook’s vulnerability,” Alito added. “When Facebook did not heed their requests as quickly or as fully as the officials wanted, the platform was publicly accused of ‘killing people’ and subtly threatened with retaliation. Not surprisingly these efforts bore fruit. Facebook adopted new rules that better conformed to the officials’ wishes, and many users who expressed disapproved views about the pandemic or COVID–19 vaccines were ‘deplatformed’ or otherwise injured.”

Alito concluded his dissent by accusing the Supreme Court’s majority of “unjustifiably” refusing to consider the “serious threat to the First Amendment” posed in this case.

This article was originally published by FreeBase News and is reprinted with permission.