By Richard Lawler, Senior Editor
In a significant ruling, a US federal judge has declared that numerous officials in the Biden administration are not allowed to communicate with social media companies regarding the moderation of posts protected by the First Amendment. Judge Terry A. Doughty stated in a 155-page memorandum that he believes the plaintiffs have a strong chance of proving that government officials are deliberately targeting and suppressing “millions of protected free speech postings by American citizens.”
The judge’s ruling asserts that the government has employed its power to stifle opposition, specifically regarding various issues such as COVID-19 vaccines, masking and lockdown measures, the lab-leak theory of COVID-19, the validity of the 2020 election, President Biden’s policies, the veracity of the Hunter Biden laptop story, and objections to the policies of current government officials. Notably, the suppression of speech predominantly leans towards conservative ideas, exemplifying viewpoint discrimination of political speech. The judge emphasizes that American citizens have the right to engage in open debates concerning crucial matters affecting the nation.
The Washington Post reports that Republican attorneys general in Louisiana and Missouri filed a lawsuit against President Joe Biden, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the CDC, the Department of Homeland Security, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, alleging that government officials began laying the groundwork for a “systemic and systematic campaign” to control speech on social media as early as 2017, four years before Biden took office.
In response to the ruling, Jameel Jaffer, the executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, expressed his disagreement, stating, “It can’t be that the government violates the First Amendment simply by engaging with the platforms about their content-moderation decisions and policies… If that’s what the court is saying here, it’s a pretty radical proposition that isn’t supported by the case law,” as cited by The New York Times.
The New York Times also features a statement from an anonymous White House official, affirming that while social media platforms bear the responsibility of considering the impact their platforms have on the American people, they should independently make choices regarding the information they present. The official further notes that the Justice Department is reviewing the ruling and assessing its next steps.
As per the injunction, individuals such as DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) leader Jen Easterly, FBI Foreign Influence Task Force leader Laura Dehmlow, and employees of various agencies are prohibited from contacting, collaborating with, or inquiring social media companies about posts protected by the First Amendment. However, there are exceptions to this prohibition, including posts related to criminal activity or conspiracies, national security threats, threats to election security, permissible public government speech promoting government policies or views on public concerns, public safety threats, efforts to detect, prevent, or mitigate malicious cyber activity.
Additionally, the individuals named in the lawsuit are barred from engaging with academic groups that focus on social media, such as the Election Integrity Partnership, the Virality Project, and the Stanford Internet Observatory.
The recent ruling by Judge Terry A. Doughty highlights the potential suppression of free speech by the Biden administration. The judge’s decision prohibits government officials from contacting social media companies about posts protected by the First Amendment, emphasizing the importance of open debate and the right of American citizens to express their viewpoints freely. The ruling is subject to further review by the Justice Department.