Supreme Court rules in Biden’s favor, dismissing GOP claims that Democrats forced social media companies to remove conservative viewpoints.

By a vote of 6-3, the justices threw out lower court rulings that favored Louisiana, Missouri and other parties in their claims that Democratic administration officials relied on social media platforms to unconstitutionally stifle views. conservatives.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote for the court that the states and other parties did not have the legal right or standing to sue. Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas dissented.

The decision should not affect typical social media users or their posts.

The case is one of several before the court this term affecting social media companies in the context of free speech. In February, the court heard arguments on laws passed by Republicans in Florida and Texas that prohibit large social media companies from removing posts because of the opinions they express. In March, the court set rules for when public officials can block their followers on social media.

The cases on state laws and the one decided Wednesday are variations on the same theme, namely complaints that platforms are censoring conservative views.

The states had argued that White House communications staff, the surgeon general, the FBI and the U.S. cybersecurity agency were among those who applied “relentless pressure” to force changes to online content on social media platforms.

The justices were largely skeptical of those claims during arguments in March, with several concerned that ordinary interactions between government officials and the platforms could be affected by a ruling in favor of the states.

The Biden administration underscored those concerns when it noted that the government would lose its ability to communicate with social media companies about anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim posts, as well as issues of national security, public health and election integrity.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the court reached the right result because it “helps ensure that the Biden Administration can continue our important work with technology companies to protect the safety of the American people, after from years of extreme and baseless Republican attacks on public officials who engaged in critical work to keep Americans safe.”

Louisiana Attorney General Liz Murrill called the decision “unfortunate and disappointing.” The court’s majority, Murrill said in a statement, “gives the federal government free rein to threaten tech platforms with censorship and suppression of speech that is unquestionably protected by the First Amendment. “The majority rejects the worst government coercion plan in history.”

The judges did not address the substance of the states’ claims or the administration’s response in their decision Wednesday.

“We begin and end with the position,” Barrett wrote. “At this time, neither the individual nor the state plaintiffs have established standing to seek an injunction against any defendant. Therefore, we lack jurisdiction to get to the bottom of the dispute.”

Dissenting, Alito wrote that states amply demonstrated their right to sue. “For months, high-ranking government officials put relentless pressure on Facebook to crack down on Americans’ free speech. Because the court unjustifiably refuses to address this serious threat to the First Amendment, I respectfully dissent,” he wrote on behalf of the three minority justices.

Some free speech advocates praised the outcome but lamented how little guidance the court provided.

“Platforms are attractive targets for official pressure, so it is crucial that the Supreme Court clarify the line between permissible attempts to persuade and impermissible attempts to coerce,” said Alex Abdo, director of litigation at the Knight Court Institute. Amendment. “This guidance would have been especially valuable in the months leading up to the election.”

Previously, the Supreme Court had moved to keep lower court rulings in abeyance. Alito, Gorsuch and Thomas would have allowed restrictions on government contacts with the platforms to go into effect.

Free speech advocates had urged the court to use the case to draw an appropriate line between acceptable government use of the pulpit and coercive threats to free speech.

A three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had earlier ruled that the Biden administration had likely exerted unconstitutional pressure on media platforms. The appeals panel said officials cannot try to “significantly coerce or encourage” changes to online content. The panel had previously narrowed a broader order by a federal judge, which wanted to include even more government officials and prohibit simply encouraging content changes.

The decision was the sixth this term in which the court overturned rulings from the Fifth Circuit, one of the most conservative appeals courts in the country. Last week, the court upheld a gun restriction intended to protect victims of domestic violence, overturning a Fifth Circuit panel.

In early June, the court unanimously ruled that anti-abortion doctors lacked standing to challenge the Food and Drug Administration’s decisions to facilitate access to the abortion drug mifepristone.

The case is Murthy v. Missouri, 23-411.

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