The US Supreme Court let Biden administration officials communicate freely with social media companies while the justices review a case that centers on the federal government’s efforts to combat online misinformation about Covid-19.
(Bloomberg) — The US Supreme Court let Biden administration officials communicate freely with social media companies while the justices review a case that centers on the federal government’s efforts to combat online misinformation about Covid-19.
Granting an administration request, the high court paused a lower court ruling that would have restricted contact by the White House and agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigation. US officials will be allowed to interact with social media platforms such as Meta Platforms Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google.
Three conservative justices — Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch — dissented from the decision to grant the stay. Alito, writing for the group, described the order as “highly disturbing.”
“At this time in the history of our country, what the court has done, I fear, will be seen by some as giving the government a green light to use heavy-handed tactics to skew the presentation of views on the medium that increasingly dominates the dissemination of news,” Alito wrote. “That is most unfortunate.”
The court as a whole gave no explanation in granting the administration’s request. The justices will likely decide the case by June 2024.
Republican-led states claim the Biden administration violated free-speech rights by demanding the removal of social media posts about topics government officials deemed objectionable, such as criticism of the Covid-19 vaccines. The White House and federal agencies insisted they were trying to improve public health and ensure factual information reached Americans during the deadly pandemic.
The 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this month ruled the White House, the FBI, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency likely violated free speech rights. The Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to intervene.
The Justice Department said the appeals court ruling would impose an overly broad and harmful ban on Biden administration officials as they work with the tech industry on election integrity, public health initiatives and more.
“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.
The communication by Biden officials with the social media companies didn’t amount to “coercion,” the department said.
The Missouri and Louisiana state attorneys general who brought the case said the Biden officials have restricted Americans from “expressing disfavored viewpoints on some of the greatest debates of our time.”
The Supreme Court case is Murthy v. Missouri, 23A243, 23-411.
(Updates with quotes from dissent, background.)
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