By Janice Hisle
In a landmark free-speech case, a federal judge is being asked to block federal officials from continuing to commit “some of the most egregious First Amendment violations in American history.”
On March 6, attorneys pressing the case against President Joe Biden and various federal agencies cited 1,442 points supporting their motion for a preliminary injunction.
“The proof of this sprawling federal ‘Censorship Enterprise’ is voluminous and overwhelming,” the March 6 court filing says (pdf). “This enterprise is highly effective—it has stifled debate and criticism of government policy on social media about some of the most pressing issues of our time.”
At least 67 officials and agencies are accused of urging companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter to suppress alleged misinformation.
Impact Extends Nationwide
Two attorneys general, Andrew Bailey of Missouri and Jeff Landry of Louisiana, allege that federal employees pressured Big Tech “to censor speakers and viewpoints on social media that the federal officials disfavor.”
Discussion of the COVID-19 pandemic and the contents of a laptop that belonged to Biden’s son, Hunter, were both heavily censored, court records show.
Bailey and Landry say the impact of the case extends to all Americans.
“This case is the most important free-speech lawsuit in a generation,” Bailey said in a news release. “I will not rest until the court blocks unelected bureaucrats from violating our constitutional right to free and open debate.”
Landry decried the “egregious and unlawful viewpoint censorship by the White House,” along with the FBI and many other agencies.
The White House did not respond immediately to The Epoch Times’ request for comment. But attorneys representing the accused agencies will get to argue against the allegations in a hearing, for which Judge Terry Doughty of the Western District of Louisiana, Monroe, will set a date.
Revelations in Depositions
U.S. Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-Mo.) served as Missouri’s attorney general when he and Landry launched the lawsuit in May 2022.
The suit, Missouri v. Biden, asks Doughty to declare that the defendants’ conduct violates free-speech protections in federal and state constitutions and to bar them from such actions.
Last July, Doughty ordered federal agencies to cooperate and respond to requests for information and depositions.
Evidence gathered since then showed “a direct, blatant, and brazen coordination between the federal government and social media companies,” Schmitt said during a March 2 speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
“On one occasion, a senior Facebook official … pledged to censor speech on COVID-19 more stringently,” Schmitt said after the Department of Health and Human Services expressed displeasure, adding, “government agents had special portals to report posts they disagreed with quickly.”
He said that Dr. Anthony Fauci, a federal health agency director who is now retired, was recently questioned under oath about his actions during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The takeaway from that deposition was: When Fauci speaks, Big Tech censors,” Schmitt said. “This can never happen again, and not on my watch.”
In his deposition, FBI Special Agent Elvis Chan admitted that the FBI had monthly and weekly meetings with social media companies in the months leading to the 2020 election, Schmitt said.
During these meetings, the FBI warned the companies to beware: Russian operations were seeking to release false information, possibly claiming that a laptop belonging to Hunter Biden contained some startling data.
“They were priming the social media companies to be ready to censor when the story inevitably came out,” Schmitt said.
Yet, Schmitt said, the FBI had the laptop. “They knew it was real and authentic. And yet they held these meetings anyways,” Schmitt said. “And the social media companies were all too happy to carry out their orders. That is pure and utter insanity.”
Schmitt drew hearty applause from the CPAC audience when he ended on this note: “We can either roll over and let Biden’s weaponized federal agencies, woke corporations, and Big Tech companies dictate what we say and what we do, or we can stand up, and we can fight back for the freedoms that so many have shed blood for.”
He pledged: “I won’t back down. I won’t be silenced. I won’t be intimidated. This is the fight. Let’s win it together.”
Goal of Lawsuit
Ultimately, the suit seeks to permanently forbid government actors from taking steps to induce any social media company “to censor, suppress, de-platform, suspend, shadow-ban, de-boost, restrict access to content, or take any adverse action against any speaker, content or viewpoint.”
Dan Schneider, vice president of Free Speech America, said he remembers when Congress debated the Communications Decency Act in 1996. “I kept on hearing people in the hallway say, ‘We have to nurture and protect the internet while it’s in its infancy,” Schneider said during a March 2 CPAC panel on Big Tech.
That concern made no sense to him. “What’s the role of government in trying to tip the scales for one particular industry?” he asked.
Yet Congress did special protections under Section 230 of the law, shielding social media platforms from lawsuits for content that its users create.
Big Tech is now “gargantuan,” he said. “The four largest publicly traded corporations in world history are Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and Google. Never before has the world seen corporations with such size and strength and power.”
Altogether those four companies have a market capitalization of $8.67 trillion, an amount that outranks the economies of 197 of the world’s 200 nations, he said.
“Are they little infants that need our protection?” Schneider said. “Because right now, if you don’t like your doctor or your accountant or your car, you can sue. But you can’t sue these guys because they’re ‘in their infancy,’ and they have to be ‘nurtured and protected.’”