In a landmark decision, a federal judge partially upheld an injunction that prohibits different Biden administration officials and governmental bodies like the Justice Department and the FBI from collaborating with major digital companies to censor social media content.
An injunction was issued in response to a censorship-by-proxy complaint filed by the attorneys general of Louisiana and Missouri, who claimed that representatives of the Biden administration and other government organizations had put pressure on social media firms to ban accounts or remove posts.
Several government agencies, including the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the U.S. State Department, the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are prohibited from taking a variety of actions regarding social media companies, according to Judge Terry A. Doughty of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana’s ruling on July 4 (pdf).
The injunction specifically states that the agencies and their employees are not allowed to meet or communicate with social media companies “urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner for removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech.”
The authorities are also prohibited from identifying objectionable material in social media posts and reporting it to the corporations with demands for action, such as removing or otherwise reducing its reach.
Also prohibited is encouraging or otherwise pressuring social media firms to alter their policies on the deletion, reduction, or limitation of content that comprises legally protected free speech.
“This could be arguably one of the most important First Amendment cases in modern history,” Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, one of the plaintiffs, told The Epoch Times’ “American Thought Leaders” in an interview following the ruling.
“If you look at the opinion that the judge lays out, he takes from our argument that this is basically one of the most massive undertakings of the federal government to limit American speech in the history of our country. The things that we uncovered, in this case, should be both shocking, appalling, and concerning for all Americans.”
The ruling was written by Doughty, a Trump appointment, who stated that the Republican attorneys general who brought the lawsuit against the Biden administration “have produced evidence of a massive effort by Defendants, from the White House to federal agencies, to suppress speech based on its content.”
The preliminary injunction is a victory for the Republican attorneys general, who have accused the Biden administration of pressing major tech companies to participate in a proxy censorship system, even though the judge’s decision isn’t final.
“I think that this injunction today certainly begins curtailing government action, and telling social media companies what they can and cannot allow on their platforms,” Landry said.
The judge wrote in an accompanying memorandum that the plaintiffs are “likely to succeed on the merits in establishing that the Government has used its power to silence the opposition.”
“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.
Landry provided examples of the Biden administration’s use of censorship-by-proxy, citing email exchanges between senior White House officials and social media sites that specifically targeted candidates for public office like Robert Kennedy Jr. and media personality Tucker Carlson, “directly targeting them and asking those social media platforms to take their content down.”
“There are a number of things that as we uncovered information in the discovery process of this case, that was shocking to us, all of that was presented to this judge,” Landry said. “And that’s what I think was compelling him to eventually do what he did today, which is to order and give us the injunction.”
Andrew Bailey, the attorney general of Missouri, also praised the verdict in a string of social media posts.
“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,” he 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.”
The judge did, however, provide a few exceptions to his ruling, enabling government representatives to inform social media companies about illegal conduct or dangers to public safety.
Contacts with social media businesses concerning posts that aim to mislead voters about voting rules or procedures are also permitted, as is speaking with them about removing content that isn’t covered by the free speech clause.
A number of identified agencies, as well as their representatives, officers, staff members, and contractors, are covered by the injunction.
A request for comment from The Epoch Times was not answered by the White House or any of the agencies mentioned in the injunction at the time of publication.
Landry stated that he anticipates the defendants will file an appeal against the judgment, to which he and Bailey will “aggressively defend it,” adding that he believes the issue will ultimately be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“We’re not done yet,” Bailey wrote in a post. “We’re just getting started.”
The complaint initiated by Louisiana and Missouri has progressed further than any other charging the Biden administration of censorship-by-proxy by pressuring social media businesses to suspend accounts or remove posts.
In a March judgement (pdf), the court presiding over the case decided against dismissing it, concluding that Louisiana and Missouri’s concerns regarding free expression were valid and merited further legal action.
“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 gave the plaintiffs permission to gather information, including emails between the White House and social media corporations.
The plaintiffs claim that “this censorship was encouraged—perhaps even mandated” by the Biden Administration and numerous important government departments, Doughty wrote in the March judgement.
According to records disclosed last year, more than 50 officials from a dozen organizations within the Biden administration participated in initiatives to put pressure on major digital companies to filter purported falsehoods.
“Like a cancer, this violation of the First Amendment has seeded itself deep within our federal institutions,” wrote Landry in a recent op-ed for The Epoch Times. “These government actors neither believe what they did was wrong nor have any qualms about doing it again.”