Judge Upholds Freedom of Speech, Counters Biden Administration in Significant Social Media Censorship Ruling

President Joe Biden speaks about the U.S. Supreme Court's decision overruling student debt forgiveness in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on June 30, 2023.

In a landmark decision favoring freedom of speech, a federal judge has provisionally approved an injunction, thereby preventing Biden administration officials, including the Justice Department and the FBI, from collaborating with prominent tech companies to censor content on social media platforms. The injunction is the judiciary’s response to a ‘censorship-by-proxy’ lawsuit filed by the attorneys general of Louisiana and Missouri. They claimed that the Biden administration and various government bodies have been imposing undue pressure on social media firms to suspend user accounts or remove particular posts, thereby inhibiting the free expression of ideas.

In a significant move reinforcing freedom of speech, Judge Terry A. Doughty, in his July 4 judgment, stipulated that various government agencies – including the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Department of State, Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – are banned from undertaking a series of actions relating to social media firms. The injunction explicitly prohibits these agencies and their personnel from communicating in any form, be it meetings, phone calls, emails, or text messages, with social media companies to persuade, encourage, or induce them into deleting, suppressing, or downplaying any content that embodies protected free speech.

In a robust defense of freedom of speech, the ruling also forbids these agencies from highlighting or flagging posts on social media platforms for further action, such as suppression or removal. This extends to attempts at influencing social media companies to alter their guidelines concerning the reduction, suppression, or deletion of content embodying protected free speech. The judgment effectively curtails any government interference in the free exchange of ideas on these platforms.

Judge Terry A. Doughty, appointed by former President Trump, asserted in his ruling that the evidence presented by the Republican attorneys general against the Biden administration revealed a considerable governmental endeavor to quell speech based on its content. This critical judgment amplifies the essence of the First Amendment and freedom of speech. He further mentioned in an associated memorandum that the plaintiffs, in upholding their right to free speech, appear to have a strong probability of succeeding in demonstrating that the government has misused its power in an attempt to mute dissenting voices.

“Opposition to COVID-19 vaccines; opposition to COVID-19 masking and lockdowns; opposition to the lab-leak theory of COVID-19; opposition to the validity of the 2020 election; opposition to President Biden’s policies; statements that the Hunter Biden laptop story was true; and opposition to policies of the government officials in power. All were suppressed,” Doughty wrote.

Although the judge’s decision isn’t the final verdict, the preliminary injunction represents a significant victory for the Republican attorneys general. They have made serious accusations against the Biden administration, alleging that it has been compelling major tech firms to partake in a scheme of proxy censorship, thus violating principles of free speech.

We’re Not Done Yet

Following the injunction, Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey hailed the decision in a series of posts on social media.

“The Court has granted our motion to BLOCK top officials in the federal government from violating the First Amendment rights of millions of Americans. What a way to celebrate Independence Day,” Bailey said in a statement on Twitter.

“The preliminary injunction prohibits nearly all of the federal government, including DHS, DOJ, and HHS, from coercing and colluding with social media companies to censor free speech,” Bailey added.

Despite the broad emphasis on freedom of speech and First Amendment rights in his ruling, Judge Doughty established some notable exceptions. He permitted government officials to liaise with social media firms to raise alerts about potential criminal activity or national security threats. Further, he allowed official communication concerning posts intended to deceive voters about election protocols, and those aiming to curb posts that fall outside the ambit of protected free speech. The injunction remains applicable to a variety of specified agencies, inclusive of their agents, officers, employees, and contractors.

“We’re not done yet,” Bailey wrote in a post. “We’re just getting started.”

“Today, we won a historic injunction against the Biden Administration, preventing it from censoring the core political speech of ordinary Americans on social media,” Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said in a statement.

“The evidence in our case is shocking and offensive with senior federal officials deciding that they could dictate what Americans can and cannot say on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other platforms about COVID-19, elections, criticism of the government, and more.”

Further Information

With numerous lawsuits alleging that the Biden administration has exploited social media companies to indirectly implement censorship, the case spearheaded by Louisiana and Missouri is the most advanced. The overseeing judge reaffirmed the paramount importance of free speech and First Amendment rights by refusing to dismiss the case. In a ruling delivered in March, he found the free speech assertions made by Louisiana and Missouri to be plausible and deserving of continued judicial scrutiny.

“This suit arises out of the alleged coercion by the Biden Administration and various government agencies and officials of social-media companies, urging those companies ‘to censor viewpoints and speakers disfavored by the Left,’” Doughty wrote in the March ruling.

The judge also permitted the plaintiffs to collect evidence, such as email communications between the White House and social media companies.

Doughty wrote in the March ruling that the plaintiffs allege that “this censorship was encouraged—perhaps even mandated—by the Biden Administration and several key governmental departments.”

In a recent opinion piece for The Epoch Times, Landry articulated, “Much like a malignant tumor, this infringement on the First Amendment has infiltrated our federal establishments profoundly. The government actors involved neither perceive their actions as erroneous nor harbor any reservations about repeating such actions.

Last year’s documents reveal that more than 50 officials from various agencies in the Biden administration engaged in initiatives to influence major tech firms to censor purported misinformation. Pieces of evidence from court cases and Freedom of Information Act requests indicate that U.S. officials exerted pressure on platforms like Facebook and Instagram to moderate certain social media posts, thereby potentially infringing on freedom of speech and First Amendment rights. One email showed that former White House digital director Rob Flaherty pushed Facebook to take action against “mis- and -disinformation” as well as “hesitancy-inducing content.”

“What we uncovered in our lawsuit Louisiana and Missouri v. Biden et al. was that the decision to vaporize you went all the way to the top—or as Biden’s director of digital media, Rob Flaherty, emphasized in an email to a major social media platform, it went all the way to ‘the highest (and I mean highest) levels of the White House,’” Landry wrote.

Flaherty, a key player in the Biden administration’s initiatives to influence narratives on social media as part of an alleged proxy censorship endeavor, parted ways with the White House at the end of June, potentially signifying a change in the administration’s approach toward freedom of speech and First Amendment rights.

On the same day as the court filing was made, President Joe Biden also announced that Flaherty would be leaving the White House but with no details about the timing and a hint that the two would work together again in some capacity in the future. “His team has pioneered new methods of communication, and operated with unparalleled creativity, innovative spirit, and a bias toward action,” the president said.

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