Washington, D.C. – On Friday, the Supreme Court maintained restrictions on the Biden administration’s ability to encourage social media platforms to censor certain content, temporarily upholding a lower court injunction. The ruling comes amid heated legal battles over claims of government overreach on free speech.
The Case So Far
In May, Biden officials were accused of pressuring social media companies like Facebook and Twitter to increase their crackdown on election misinformation and COVID-19 falsehoods. Two conservative groups subsequently sued, arguing this constituted illegal government coercion violating the First Amendment.
A federal judge agreed, granting a preliminary injunction in September that barred federal officials from continuing these communications with social media companies. The judge said the plaintiffs were likely to prevail on their claims at trial, making a preliminary injunction appropriate.
The Biden administration quickly appealed to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which declined to fully lift the injunction pending further review. This left the restrictions in place. The Justice Department then applied to the Supreme Court for an emergency stay of the lower court order while they appealed it on the merits.
Supreme Court Grants Temporary Reprieve
On Friday evening, conservative Justice Samuel Alito, who handles emergency appeals from the 5th Circuit, issued a brief order leaving the injunction against the Biden administration in place temporarily.
However, he requested additional briefings on the matter and scheduled the issue for consideration by the full Court on October 20.
This gives the Supreme Court more time to review the complex constitutional issues involved before deciding whether the injunction should remain in effect during the appeal process. It leaves the Biden administration constrained for now.
Response From The White House
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the administration was encouraged that Justice Alito allowed their social media outreach to continue unchanged over the next week.
“We look forward to providers having an opportunity to present their perspective before the Supreme Court next week,” Jean-Pierre stated. “Clearly vast amounts of misinformation online have extraordinary impacts on elections and our economy and public health.”
The Case For The Administration
The Biden administration argues it has a right and a duty to combat misinformation on social media that threatens public safety and democracy. Falsehoods about elections and public health crises require a robust response, they contend.
Officials say instructing companies to be more vigilant aligns with the government’s own speech rights. They accuse the judge of overreach by essentially telling the executive branch who they can and cannot talk to in performing their official functions.
Legal experts supporting the White House say private social media platforms are not state actors constrained by the First Amendment in policing content. The companies voluntarily moderate content and remain free to reject government suggestions.
The Case Against The Administration
Critics counter that the administration went beyond persuasion into coercion by threatening regulatory action if companies didn’t comply with demands to censor more content.
Privately operated social networks may not be subject to the First Amendment, opponents say, but the government itself clearly is. They argue officials illegally chilled free speech by intimidating companies into suppressing constitutionally protected views the administration disfavors.
Opponents say targeting political speech, COVID discussions, and election information strikes at core First Amendment principles. They accuse the administration of abusing power by circumventing constitutional limits.
The epic battle has broad implications in the raging national debate over social media regulations. It elevates controversy over the Biden administration’s claims to counter misinformation online.
Critics see a dangerous expansion of government influence over online speech. But supporters say major platforms must be accountable for allowing harmful viral falsehoods.
How the Supreme Court ultimately comes down will impact what levers the government has to police social networks. The decision could expand or restrict Biden’s ability to combat misinformation in the run-up to the 2024 election.
For now, the administration remains muzzled while the Court deliberates next steps. But the fierce legal fight highlights the power federal authorities still aim to wield over Silicon Valley and the national discourse.