Federal Judge Denies Biden’s Request to Delay Social Media Order

A federal judge in Louisiana denied a request by the Biden administration to delay an order he imposed last week that bans federal officials from communicating with social media companies, reported Bloomberg. 

Terry Doughty, U.S. District Court Judge, refused Monday to pause his July 4 nationwide injunction blocking multiple administration officials and government agencies from meeting with or contacting social media companies for “encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any matter the removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech.”

Doughty was nominated to the federal bench by former President Donald Trump, who also denied the government’s alternative request for a seven-day pause. At the same time, it continues to petition the appeals court to step in. 

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to be asked to intervene by the Justice Department, according to Bloomberg.

The DOJ insisted that Doughty’s order was unclear and broad in defining what kind of communication with tech companies is no longer allowed. 

The judge responded that the government isn’t entitled to a delay in enforcing his order since they were likely to lose on the case’s merits, reported Bloomberg. 

According to Doughty, the DOJ failed to identify specific examples of government activity that would be hurt meanwhile. 

“[The injunction] it is not as broad as it appears,” wrote Doughty in the order. “It only prohibits something the Defendants have no legal right to do — contacting social media companies to urge, encourage, pressuring, or inducing in any manner the removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech posted on social media platforms. It also contains numerous exceptions.”

Doughty ruled the government likely violated the First Amendment

Last week, Doughty ruled the government likely violated the First Amendment in its efforts to persuade tech companies to take steps to limit the spread of fake accounts and misinformation, especially during the pandemic.

The Biden administration wants to put the ban on hold while challenging the judge’s 155-page opinion.

The order bars many agencies and their employees from “urging, encouraging pressuring or inducing” social media companies to restrict or remove content covered by the First Amendment’s free speech protections. 

The judge included exceptions for communications about national security threats, criminal activity, election integrity issues, and other “permissible public government speech,” reported Bloomberg.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit countered with a weekend filing opposing a stay. 

Among the arguments are that the July 4 injunction carves out exemptions allowing officials to contact social media companies about postings that involve public safety threats or criminal activity; election-related issues, including voter suppression attempts, illegal campaign contributions, and voting infrastructure threats; or national security threats; and saying officials can continue “exercising permissible public government speech promoting government policies or views on matters of public concern.”