The US Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to immediately intervene to allow Biden administration officials to communicate freely with social media companies while a legal fight goes forward over allegations of government coercion.
(Bloomberg) — The US Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to immediately intervene to allow Biden administration officials to communicate freely with social media companies while a legal fight goes forward over allegations of government coercion.
The department argued in a filing Thursday that a lower court imposed an overly broad and harmful ban this month on White House staff, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Republican-led states claim the government violated free-speech rights by demanding Meta Platforms Inc., Twitter and Alphabet Inc.’s Google remove posts about Covid-19 and political topics that officials deemed objectionable.
“The court imposed unprecedented limits on the ability of the President’s closest aides to use the bully pulpit to address matters of public concern, on the FBI’s ability to address threats to the Nation’s security, and on the CDC’s ability to relay public health information at platforms’ request,” the department said, adding that it will ask the high court by next month to overturn the ruling.
The Supreme Court application marks the latest escalation in the Biden administration’s battle with opponents in the GOP over how the government handled the Covid-19 pandemic, increasing uncertainty about how the largest tech companies can interact with public officials.
In early September, the three-judge appeals court panel ruled the White House and the CDC likely violated free speech rights when they asked social media companies to remove misinformation about Covid-19. The court barred the government from “compelling the platforms to act,” such as by threatening punishment if they don’t comply with requests or “supervising, directing or otherwise meaningfully controlling” their decisions about online speech.
The decision by the three appellate judges, all appointed by Republican presidents, was a partial victory for the conservative attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana who brought the suit, but it was narrower than the ruling of a lower court, which would have made it difficult for the government to communicate with any social media companies.
Republicans have criticized President Joe Biden and his administration over the government’s handling of Covid, arguing they silenced people with differing viewpoints. The White House and federal agencies insisted they were trying to improve public health and ensure factual information reached Americans during the deadly pandemic.
In its filing Thursday, the Justice Department the communication by Biden officials with the social media companies didn’t amount to “coercion.”
“A central dimension of presidential power is the use of the Office’s bully pulpit to seek to persuade Americans — and American companies — to act in ways that the President believes would advance the public interest,” the department wrote. “There is a fundamental distinction between persuasion and coercion.”
The case is State of Missouri v. Biden, 23-30445, US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
(Updates with details from filing.)
More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.