A US Supreme Court justice temporarily paused a ruling that would restrict the Biden administration’s contacts with social media companies while the justices consider how to handle a new First Amendment clash.
(Bloomberg) — A US Supreme Court justice temporarily paused a ruling that would restrict the Biden administration’s contacts with social media companies while the justices consider how to handle a new First Amendment clash.
The administrative stay from Justice Samuel Alito came just hours after the Justice Department asked the court to intervene on an emergency basis so that the government can continue to communicate freely with companies during a legal fight. Alito is the justice assigned to deal with emergency matters from the New Orleans-based appeals court that ruled in the case.
Alito’s order applies until Sept. 22, though he could extend it if the justices decide they need more time. Administrative stays are designed to preserve the status quo for a short period, not to suggest any views on the merits of a case.
Republican-led states claim the government violated free-speech rights by demanding that Meta Platforms Inc., Twitter and Alphabet Inc.’s Google remove posts about Covid-19 and political topics that officials deemed objectionable.
In its filing Thursday, the Justice Department said the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruling would impose an overly broad and harmful ban on White House staff, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The three-judge 5th Circuit panel ruled the White House and the CDC likely violated free speech rights. 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 appeals court decision had been set to take effect early next week.
“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 Justice Department said, adding that it plans to formally ask the high court by next month to overturn the ruling.
The Justice Department said 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 Supreme Court case is Murthy v. Missouri, 23A243.
(Updates with details about legal fight starting in fourth paragraph.)
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