A U.S. District Court judge is temporarily preventing officials at the White House from meeting with tech companies about social media censorship and argues such actions in the past were likely violations of the First Amendment.
The injunction on Tuesday by Louisiana Judge Terry A. Doughty was in response to recent lawsuits from attorneys general from Missouri and Louisiana. The suits allege the White House “significantly encourage[d]” or coerced tech companies to suppress free speech during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Judge Doughty is barring several federal agencies and officials — including some of President Biden’s Cabinet members along with White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre — from contacting social media companies in efforts to suppress speech. Twitter, Meta, and Google were all named in the lawsuits.
The injunction states that the government’s actions “likely violate the Free Speech Clause” and that the court “is not persuaded by Defendants’ arguments,” which is a significant blow to the White House.
“During the Covid-19 pandemic, a period perhaps best characterized by widespread doubt and uncertainty, the United States Government seems to have assumed a role similar to an Orwellian’ Ministry of Truth,'” wrote Doughty.
“If the allegations made by Plaintiffs are true, the present case arguably involves the most massive attack against free speech in the United States’ history,” adds the injunction. “In their attempts to suppress alleged disinformation, the Federal Government, and particularly the Defendants named here, are alleged to have blatantly ignored the First Amendment’s right to free speech.”
The injunction claims that “the censorship alleged in this case almost exclusively targeted conservative speech” but that the issues raised by the case are “beyond party lines.”
“Viewpoint discrimination is an especially egregious form of content discrimination argued Doughty. “The government must abstain from regulating speech when the specific motivating ideology or the speaker’s perspective is the rationale for the restriction.”
The cases could mean that future interactions between government officials and tech companies may be significantly limited. Exceptions could include criminal matters or national security threats on social media.
Doughty: Attorneys have produced evidence of a massive effort to suppress speech based on content
In the injunction, Judge Doughty wrote that the GOP attorneys “have produced evidence of a massive effort by Defendants, from the White House to federal agencies, to suppress speech based on its content.”
The ruling has drastic implications for technology companies, which often speak with government officials throughout national emergencies and elections.
In the ruling, Judge Doughty — who was nominated to the bench by former President Donald Trump — carved out several exceptions allowing talks between companies and the government, which would include officials informing social media platforms of national security threats, foreign efforts, and criminal activity that could throw an election in the U.S.
The ruling is likely to be appealed by the Biden administration.