Judge Denies Biden Admin’s Attempt to Collude with Big Tech to Suppress Right-Wing Online Free Speech

U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty, a Donald Trump appointee, on Monday upheld an injunction that prevents key Biden administration officials and various agencies from collaborating with social media firms to suppress online free speech.

This move comes in spite of the Justice Department’s request to momentarily halt the order.

Missouri and Louisiana brought forth the case against the Biden admin, asserting that the officials significantly encouraged or jointly partook in efforts with social media companies to inhibit posts expressing anti-COVID-19 vaccines sentiments, criticisms of COVID-19 lockdowns, and questioning the legitimacy of the 2020 election results.

Judge Doughty stated in his 13-page ruling, Missouri and Louisiana “are likely to prove that all of the enjoined defendants coerced, significantly encouraged, and/or jointly participated [with] social-media companies to suppress social-media posts by American citizens that expressed opinions that were anti-COVID-19 vaccines, anti-COVID-19 lockdowns, posts that delegitimized or questioned the results of the 2020 election, and other content not subject to any exception to the First Amendment. These items are protected free speech and were seemingly censored because of the viewpoints they expressed.”

He further emphasized that the Preliminary Injunction, although involving multiple agencies, was not as extensive as it seemed.

He clarified, “It only prohibits something the Defendants have no legal right to do — contacting social media companies for the purpose of urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner, the removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech posted on social-media platforms.”

Doughty confirmed that the Biden admin “likely ‘significantly encouraged’ and/or ‘jointly participated’ with the social-media companies to engage in viewpoint-based suppression of protected free speech. Additionally, the White House Defendants and the Surgeon General Defendants were found to have likely engaged in coercion of social-media companies.”

In response to Doughty’s refusal, the Department of Justice (DOJ) approached the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, seeking to stay the lower court’s order while an appeal is in process.

The Justice Department argues that the order is overly broad, vague, and poses a risk of inhibiting lawful government activity.

The attorneys also cautioned that the order issued last week could potentially “chill a wide range of lawful government conduct.”

They hope for a resolution by July 24.

In their appeal, DOP attorneys expressed their concerns, writing, “The district court issued a universal injunction with sweeping language that could be read to prohibit (among other things) virtually any government communication directed at social-media platforms regarding content moderation.”

“The court’s belief that the injunction forbids only unconstitutional conduct, while protecting the government’s lawful prerogatives, rested on a fundamentally erroneous conception of the First Amendment, and the court’s effort to tailor the injunction through a series of carveouts cured neither the injunction’s overbreadth nor its vagueness.”

This lawsuit, which kicked off in 2022 by the attorneys general of Louisiana and Missouri, alleges that high-ranking government officials collaborated with these companies to suppress certain viewpoints and content on social media platforms, breaching the First Amendment.

Doughty has characterized the attorneys general case as depicting “an almost dystopian scenario” whereby “the United States Government seems to have assumed a role similar to an Orwellian ‘Ministry of Truth.’”

Missouri and Louisianna “are likely to succeed on the merits in establishing that the Government has used its power to silence the opposition,” the judge added.

“It is quite telling that each example or category of suppressed speech was conservative in nature,” he continued. “This targeted suppression of conservative ideas is a perfect example of viewpoint discrimination of political speech. American citizens have the right to engage in free debate about the significant issues affecting the country.”

The July 4 order by Doughty restricts the Biden admin, including platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, from interacting with social media firms.

Notable Biden admin officials, such as Alejandro Mayorkas, Homeland Security Secretary, Xavier Becerra, Health and Human Services Secretary, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, and White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, are temporarily barred from inducing social media firms to “removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech.”

The order, however, has some exceptions, permitting the government to alert social media companies about posts that could potentially threaten national security, public safety, or involve criminal activity.

It also allows for communication about illegal voting suppression attempts or foreign influences on elections.

Despite Judge Doughty’s refusal to stay his decision, the Biden admin is appealing the ruling.

Read Doughty’s letter below: