Supreme Court sides with Biden admin in landmark censorship case

The justices ruled 6-3 to reverse a lower court injunction barring the federal government from "coercing or significantly encouraging" social media companies to suppress speech.

The U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C. (Shutterstock)

(Daily Caller News Foundation) — The Supreme Court issued a ruling Wednesday siding with the Biden administration in a landmark case that challenged the federal government’s ability to pressure social media companies to censor speech.

The justices ruled 6-3 to reverse a lower court injunction barring the federal government from “coercing or significantly encouraging” social media companies to suppress speech, finding that plaintiffs did not have standing. The case, Murthy v. Missouri, was brought by the Republican attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana, along with five individual plaintiffs whose own speech was censored.

“The plaintiffs rely on allegations of past Government censorship as evidence that future censorship is likely,” Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote in the majority opinion. “But they fail, by and large, to link their past social-media restrictions to the defendants’ communications with the platforms. Thus, the events of the past do little to help any of the plaintiffs establish standing to seek an injunction to prevent future harms.”

Last July, District of Louisiana Judge Terry A. Doughty issued the initial injunction blocking a wide range of Biden administration officials from communicating with social media platforms for the purposes of censoring protected speech. The allegations in the case could be “the most massive attack against free speech in United States’ history,” he wrote, calling the government’s actions “Orwellian.”

The Fifth Circuit narrowed the injunction but agreed the White House, Surgeon General, CDC and FBI, along with CISA, which it later added, likely violated the First Amendment.

The government argued in filings with the Supreme Court that the injunction placed “unprecedented limits on the ability of the President’s closest aides to use the bully pulpit to address matters of public concern.”

Documents obtained during litigation highlighted government takedown requests asking companies to suppress “misinformation” on topics ranging from COVID-19 to the election.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC), for instance, flagged posts for platforms to remove. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) likewise engaged in “switchboarding,” where it sent reports of “misinformation” flagged by local election officials to social media companies for removal.

White House officials pressured companies to censor specific individuals over vaccine-related posts, including Tucker Carlson, Tomi Lahren and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

In one March 2021 email to Facebook, former White House director of digital strategy Rob Flaherty told the company they should be censoring more “borderline content.”

“We are gravely concerned that your service is one of the top drivers of vaccine hesitancy – period,” he wrote, according to court documents.

Various agencies also participated in regular industry meetings with platforms where concerns about misinformation were discussed, documents revealed.

In his dissent joined by Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that the majority “permits the successful campaign of coercion in this case to stand as an attractive model for future officials who want to control what the people say, hear, and think.”

“It was blatantly unconstitutional, and the country may come to regret the Court’s failure to say so,” he wrote.


Katelynn Richardson