A U.S. District Court judge’s temporary injunction on Tuesday limited officials from the Biden Administration from communicating with social media platforms about “protected speech.”
The ruling from Judge Terry A. Doughty of the U.S. District Court in Louisiana emerged out of litigation initially filed last year by Missouri’s then-Attorney General Eric Schmitt.
Doughty’s injunction bars a number of federal agencies—including the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the FBI—from contacting social media companies “for the purpose of urging, encouraging, pressuring or inducing in any manner the removal, deletion, suppression or reduction of content containing protected free speech.”
A carve-out in the injunction still allows federal agencies to notify social media outlets about crimes, national security threats or foreign attempts to influence elections.
The injunction could have First Amendment implications.
“The injunction is strikingly broad and clearly intended to chill any kind of contact between government actors and social media platforms,” said Evelyn Douek, an assistant professor at Stanford Law School.
The ruling is being viewed as a victory for Republicans who have accused the big social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube of disproportionately removing right-leaning content.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry filed the litigation last year along with Missouri’s Schmitt, who said the social media sites collaborated with the federal government to suppress speech.
“If the allegations made by plaintiffs are true, the present case arguably involves the most massive attack against free speech in United States’ history,” said Judge Doughty, a Trump appointee. “The plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits in establishing that the government has used its power to silence the opposition.”
White House attorneys countered that federal officials don’t have the authority to order content removed from social media platforms. They asserted that the two Republican attorneys general misrepresented communications with social media companies about public health disinformation and election conspiracies.
The White House said the Department of Justice was reviewing the ruling and evaluating its next steps.
“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 White House said in a statement.
Landry called the judge’s order “historic,” while Missouri’s current Attorney General, Andrew Bailey, called it a “huge win in the fight to defend our most fundamental freedoms.”
Several of the major social media companies have not yet commented.