A federal appeals court in New Orleans has issued a ruling that significantly narrows a lower court’s order restricting the Biden administration’s communications with social media companies regarding controversial content related to COVID-19 and other issues.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stated that the White House, Surgeon General, Centers for Disease Control, and FBI cannot force social media platforms to remove posts they disagree with.
The court, however, struck down certain portions of the previous order that prevented various government agencies from contacting platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to request the removal of specific content.
It’s worth noting that the softened order will not take immediate effect. The administration has ten days to seek a review from the Supreme Court.
The lawsuit, filed in Louisiana, accused administration officials of pressuring platforms to remove content under the threat of antitrust actions or changes to federal law, which protects them from lawsuits concerning their users’ posts.
The topics highlighted in the lawsuit included COVID-19 vaccines, the FBI’s handling of President Joe Biden’s son’s laptop, Hunter Biden, and allegations of election fraud. The lawsuit claimed that the administration used regulatory action threats to suppress conservative viewpoints.
The states of Missouri and Louisiana, along with a conservative website owner and four individuals who opposed the administration’s COVID-19 policy, filed the lawsuit.
In an unsigned 75-page opinion, three 5th Circuit judges agreed with the plaintiffs that the administration violated the First Amendment by occasionally threatening social media platforms with antitrust action or changes to laws that protect them from liability.
However, the court removed portions of District Judge Terry Doughty’s broad July 4 ruling, stating that mere encouragement to remove content does not always cross a constitutional line.
The ruling also excluded some agencies from the order, such as the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency, and the State Department.
The case was heard by Judges Jennifer Walker Elrod and Edith Brown Clement, nominated to the court by former President George W. Bush, and Judge Don Willett, nominated by former President Donald Trump. Judge Doughty was nominated by Trump for the federal bench.