SCOTUS Hears Case on Feds’ Social Media Meddling

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The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Monday about whether the federal government can ask social media companies to remove alleged misinformation on a platform, with multiple judges seeming skeptical about the arguments made by the plaintiffs.

The hearing was part of a 2022 lawsuit filed by the attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana, along with five social media users, as reported by The New York Times.

They argued in the lawsuit that the Biden administration violated the First Amendment by doing more to “persuade” social media companies than initially believed, alleging that the administration coerced the companies into removing certain posts on the platforms, per CNN.

Attorneys for the federal government pushed back on the claims that authorities violated the First Amendment, arguing the federal government did not coerce the companies and that “government officials are and must be free to inform, to persuade, and to criticize.”

“But influence is also the natural result of successful efforts to inform, to persuade, or to criticize. That the platforms often acted in response to the government’s communications thus does not remotely show that those communications were coercive,” continued the federal government in a filing.

The justices reportedly seemed skeptical about the arguments presented by the states during Monday’s hearing, with Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson saying that some may think “the government actually has a duty to take steps to protect the citizens of this country.”

“I’m really worried about that, because you’ve got the First Amendment operating in an environment of threatening circumstances from the government’s perspective, and you’re saying the government can’t interact with the source of those problems,” she said to Louisiana Solicitor General Benjamin Aguiñaga, according to CBS News.

Additionally, Justice Brett Kavanaugh drew a comparison to when media companies publish information about ongoing wars, stating that it was “not uncommon” for the federal government to warn the company that the potential story could harm the public, per NYT.

Kavanaugh said such a warning would not violate the First Amendment unless the government threatened repercussions if the company posted the article.

Monday’s hearing stemmed from a ruling by U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty in 2022 that found government officials in both the Trump and Biden administrations coerced social media companies into removing certain content, as reported by the Missouri Independent.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals later ruled that four federal agencies — including the FBI, the CDC, the White House, and the Surgeon General’s Office — would be barred from having contact with social media companies due to the potential for First Amendment violations; however, SCOTUS placed a temporary stay on the ruling in October of 2023, per the Missouri Independent.

As previously reported by The Dallas Express, the federal government has been accused of engaging in overreach when it comes to interfering in social media and even invading the privacy of U.S. citizens. More recently, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security reportedly met with a number of social media companies to figure out how to identify and suppress content determined to be a form of “extremism.”

Leading into Monday’s hearing, Louisiana Attorney General Liz Murrill and Aguiñaga released a statement claiming that the attorneys general had uncovered more than 20,000 pages of documents demonstrating “an extensive censorship campaign stemming directly from the President of the United States and his federal government.”

The statement says that these documents have propelled this case into “one of the most important cases in a century related to the First Amendment,” adding that the team believes SCOTUS will “validate the original ruling by a district judge that Biden’s censorship enterprise is a massive violation of the First Amendment.”

Although the oral argument phase of this lawsuit has concluded, it is unlikely that SCOTUS will have a ruling until sometime in June since it often waits to issue a decision on important cases until closer to the end of the current term, according to NYT.

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