Monumental Case To Set Precedent on Government Suppression

In a decision that conservatives are mostly applauding, the Supreme Court will hear a case that will set a precedent on how far the government can go in suppressing free speech on social media.

On Friday, the nation’s highest court announced it had issued a writ of certiorari in a case known by various names that basically pits the states of Louisiana and Missouri against the Biden administration, in which the states aimed to curtail the federal government’s goading of platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter/X to censor unpopular opinions without directly telling them to — which would be an obvious breach of the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech.

Louisiana Solicitor General Liz Murrill hailed the decision in a statement Friday.

“We are pleased to learn that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear this case, giving us yet another opportunity to defend the people from this assault on our First Amendment rights,” Murrill said.

“It brings us one step closer to reestablishing the protections guaranteed to us in the Constitution and under the First Amendment,” she said.

“We hope that the Supreme Court will agree that this gross abuse of power must stop and never happen again.”

The lawsuit, initially filed by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt in May 2022, dealt with how the government put pressure on tech giants to censor certain information, particularly as it related to the COVID-19 pandemic — and the efficacy of and/or dangers potentially posed by mask-wearing, vaccines and other measures.

In a ruling on July 4, U.S. District Court Judge Terry Doughty fired the first shot in the legal volley on the case, issuing a decision that blocked a number of federal agencies — specifically, the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Census Bureau, the FBI and the Department of Justice — from interacting with companies in a way that could be construed as “encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner the removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech.”

In September, according to The Associated Press, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled mostly in favor of the two states while it “tossed out broader language in an order that a Louisiana-based federal judge had issued July 4 that effectively blocked multiple government agencies from contacting platforms like Facebook and X (formerly Twitter) to urge the removal of content.”

And here we come to the part that has conservatives only mostly applauding the decision to grant a writ of certiorari to hear the case: According to CBS News, while the case is being presented to the nation’s highest bench, the injunction issued by Doughty will be paused, period.

Three justices on the conservative end of the bench — Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas — signed on to a dissent of the stay of the injunction.

“Despite the Government’s conspicuous failure to establish a threat of irreparable harm, the majority stays the injunction and thus allows the defendants to persist in committing the type of First Amendment violations that the lower courts identified,” Alito wrote in the dissent. “The majority takes this action in the face of the lower courts’ detailed findings of fact.”

“Applying our settled test for granting a stay, I would deny the Government’s application, but I would specify in the order that in the unlikely event that a concrete occurrence presents a risk of irreparable harm, the Government can apply for relief at that time, including, if necessary, by filing an emergency application here,” he continued. “Such an order would fully protect the ability of Executive Branch officials to speak out on matters of public concern.

“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. That is most unfortunate.”

Nevertheless, the fact that this is before the court at all is reason enough to celebrate.

As we know from the “Twitter files” and “Facebook files,” arms of the government made it clear in no uncertain terms that they wanted certain information restricted — particularly on COVID-19, but also in regard to Hunter Biden’s laptop of doom.

Is this censorship? Is a swampy, angry unelected government apparatchik promising to make themselves a nuisance to you if you don’t do what they so clearly want you to do any different from a government directive?

That’s what the Supreme Court will decide, and one hopes the decision is an easy one.

Yes, the administration will certainly make the argument that its obvious intimidation of these tech giants didn’t constitute de jure suppression of speech, but de facto government intimidation ought to be reason enough to prohibit the kind of behavior this lawsuit seeks to end.

Friday was likely just the first step in a long and grueling process for conservatives and other free speech proponents to claw back our most precious of rights as Americans from nanny-state bureaucrats and pusillanimous tech companies who know the only entity more powerful and monopolistic than themselves is the government.

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