July 13, 2024

Supreme Court rejects challenge to Biden’s contacts with social media companies

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a challenge by social media users and two states aiming to limit the Biden administration’s efforts to influence social media companies to remove misinformation.

The court ruled that the users and the states, Louisiana and Missouri, lacked the legal standing to seek an injunction against the administration’s communications with the platforms.

The plaintiffs argued that their First Amendment rights were violated when their posts were removed or suppressed due to pressure from administration officials. However, the court reversed a lower court order that had restricted the White House’s contacts with social media companies, which the Justice Department argued was overly broad.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett, writing for the majority, stated that the plaintiffs failed to sufficiently link their past social media restrictions to the government’s communications with the platforms. She noted that allegations of past censorship did not provide a basis for predicting future censorship, thus failing to establish standing for an injunction.

In a dissent joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, Justice Samuel Alito called the case “one of the most important free speech cases to reach this court in years.” He accused government officials of coercing social media companies to suppress speech and criticized the majority for overlooking the free speech issues involved.

The case, *Murthy v. Missouri*, centered on claims by five social media users that the Biden administration’s communications with platforms violated their First Amendment rights. The plaintiffs accused federal officials of running a “Censorship Enterprise” by coercing social media companies into censoring or suppressing unfavorable speech.

The Supreme Court’s decision allows the federal government to continue its efforts to combat misinformation online, particularly as it prepares for the November presidential election and deals with the challenges posed by sophisticated artificial intelligence tools. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stated that the ruling ensures the administration can continue working with tech companies to protect the American public from various online threats.

The legal battle involved a federal district judge in Louisiana who found that certain federal officials had unconstitutionally coerced social media platforms to suppress content related to COVID-19 vaccines and the 2020 election. Although a federal appeals court narrowed the scope of this order, the Supreme Court ultimately took up the case.

The Biden administration argued that their actions were aimed at persuading platforms to address problematic content, especially in efforts to promote vaccination during the pandemic. They warned that restrictions imposed by the district court would hinder their ability to address national security threats and disseminate public health information.

In her majority opinion, Barrett emphasized that without evidence of an ongoing pressure campaign, it was speculative to attribute future moderation decisions of social media platforms to government influence. She noted that platforms continued to enforce their policies against misinformation independently of government actions.

Justice Alito, in his dissent, maintained that federal officials had effectively coerced platforms like Facebook through “subtle and sophisticated” efforts, arguing that the administration’s communications amounted to virtual demands.

This case was among several the Supreme Court heard this term that explored the intersection of social media and the First Amendment. The court also unanimously ruled in favor of the NRA in a separate case, allowing the group to pursue claims that New York’s financial regulator violated the First Amendment by coercing entities to cut ties with the NRA to suppress its pro-gun rights advocacy.

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