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A federal appeals court gave the Biden administration more bad news in a Friday ruling suggesting the White House violated a fundamental constitutional right during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the Friday decision, the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled that the White House, surgeon general, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Federal Bureau of Investigation unconstitutionally chilled free speech.
“We find that the White House, acting in concert with the Surgeon General’s office, likely coerced the platforms to make their moderation decisions … and significantly encouraged the platforms’ decisions,” the three-judge panel wrote.
“We find that the FBI, too, likely coerced the platforms into moderating content, and encouraged them to do so by effecting changes to their moderation policies, both in violation of the First Amendment,” it added.
Newsmax noted further:
The decision modifies a lower court preliminary injunction which prohibited a wide-ranging group of government officials from coercing social media platforms to take down or limit posts on their websites.
While agreeing with much of the lower court’s premises, the new order limits the scope of the restrictions imposed to the groups it found culpable — the White House, surgeon general, CDC, and FBI.
The Fifth Circuit had previously temporarily blocked the injunction, issued by Judge Terry A. Doughty of the federal District Court in Western Louisiana.
Andrew Bailey, Missouri’s attorney general, and former Missouri Attorney General and now U.S. Sen. Eric Schmitt, the latter of whom filed the initial lawsuit, expressed approval of the appeals court ruling after it was announced.
“This is another massive victory for free speech,” stated Schmitt, a Republican. “Because of Missouri v. Biden, the federal government is prohibited yet again from colluding with social media giants to censor freedom of speech online.”
An administration official told the Washington Post the ruling was being evaluated, and no decision had yet been made regarding an appeal.
“Our consistent view remains that social media platforms have a critical responsibility to take account of the effects their platforms are having on the American people, but make independent choices about the information they present,” the spokesperson said.
If the administration decides to appeal, it would have to go before the U.S. Supreme Court at this point. Justices are already slated to take up lower court rulings regarding social media disputes during their upcoming session, Newsmax reported.
In June of 2022, the nation’s highest court blocked a Texas law that would have hindered the way social media companies can moderate content in a 5 – 4 decision that saw conservative Justices Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh, and John Roberts side with liberal Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor in the majority decision, CNBC reported.
It also saw liberal Justice Elena Kagan join conservative Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, and Samuel Alito in dissent.
The decision did not rule on the merits of the law but simply allowed it to be blocked while federal courts decide if it can be enforced.
The law, HB 20, was signed by Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in response to the beliefs of some that social media companies censor conservatives more harshly than liberals.
“We will always defend the freedom of speech in Texas, which is why I am proud to sign House Bill 20 into law to protect First Amendment rights in the Lone Star State,” the governor said when he signed the bill into law in September 2021.
“Social media websites have become our modern-day public square. They are a place for healthy public debate where information should be able to flow freely — but there is a dangerous movement by social media companies to silence conservative viewpoints and ideas,” he added at the time.
“That is wrong, and we will not allow it in Texas. I thank Senator Bryan Hughes, Representative Briscoe Cain, and the Texas Legislature for ensuring that House Bill 20 reached my desk during the second special session.”