Supreme Court dismisses Republican suit claiming Biden administration censored social media

The Supreme Court on Wednesday cast aside claims that the Biden administration has been censoring conservatives by pressing social media sites to take down dangerous misinformation.

In a 6-3 decision, the justices threw out a lawsuit from state attorneys in Louisiana and Missouri, and said they had no standing to bring such claims.

The social media sites that were said to be targets of the federal pressure campaign did not sue or complain their rights were violated.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett, writing for the court, said the Republican officials and other conservative critics did not show that Facebook and other social media sites removed postings because of pressure from Washington, nor were they likely to do so in the future.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. filed a 34-page dissent. If what the plaintiffs said is true, he said, “this is one of the most important free speech cases to reach this court in years.” Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil M. Gorsuch agreed.

The ruling throws out a broad court order issued last year by a federal judge in Louisiana and upheld by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that threatened hundreds of Biden administration officials with a contempt citation if they “significantly encouraged” a platform to remove some content.

The case highlighted a common complaint from the right that conservatives and their views are being discounted or “censored” on social media.

The Republican state attorneys in Missouri and Louisiana had alleged the right to free speech in this country was being violated by the Biden administration’s “sprawling federal censorship enterprise.” They pointed to actions by the White House as well as the FBI, the Office of the Surgeon General and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In October, in response to an appeal from Solicitor Gen. Elizabeth Prelogar, the justices had put the Louisiana judge’s order on hold over dissents by Thomas, Alito and Gorsuch.

Justices agreed to hear arguments and rule on the 1st Amendment issue raised in the case of Murthy vs. Missouri.

This term, the court has heard three major cases on social media and the 1st Amendment, all of them driven by complaints from conservatives that their speech is being censored.

Still pending before the court is a 1st Amendment challenge to new and never enforced laws from Texas and Florida that would fine or penalize popular social media sites for deleting postings by conservatives.

The case decided Wednesday began with a complaint that the social media platforms had blocked or downgraded posts on topics such as “the COVID-19 lab leak theory, pandemic lockdowns, vaccine side effects, election fraud, and the Hunter Biden laptop story.”

The state attorneys took their complaint to U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty, a Trump appointee in Monroe, La.

He handed down an unusually far-reaching order that prohibited federal officials and agencies from “urging or encouraging” the removal of “protected speech” from social media. He described the administration’s conduct as “arguably … the most massive attack against free speech in United States’ history.”

The administration appealed to the 5th Circuit Court in New Orleans, but lost.

A three-judge panel said the administration “officials have engaged in a broad pressure campaign designed to coerce social-media companies into suppressing speakers, viewpoints, and content disfavored by the government. The harms that radiate from such conduct extend far. … It impacts every social-media user.”

The justices, including its conservatives, have been skeptical of the 5th Circuit’s approval of broad lawsuits based on questionable claims of standing.

Two weeks ago, the justices by a 9-0 vote tossed out a lawsuit filed by antiabortion doctors who sought to overturn the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of abortion pills. A federal judge in west Texas and the 5th Circuit Court had said the plaintiffs had standing, even though they did not perform abortions or prescribe the pills.

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