By Tom Ozimek
A federal judge has made a historic ruling by partially granting an injunction that blocks various Biden administration officials and government agencies such as the Justice Department and the FBI from working with big tech firms to censor posts on social media.
The injunction came in response to a censorship-by-proxy lawsuit brought by attorneys general in Louisiana and Missouri, who have accused Biden administration officials and various government agencies of pressuring social media companies to suspend accounts or take down posts.
Judge Terry A. Doughty of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana wrote in the July 4 ruling (pdf) that various government agencies, including the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the U.S. State Department, the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are prohibited from taking a range of actions regarding social media companies.
‘Shocking, Appalling, and Concerning’
Specifically, the agencies and their staff members are prohibited from meeting or contacting by phone, email, or text message or “engaging in any communication of any kind with social-media companies urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner for removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech,” per the injunction.
The agencies are also barred from flagging content on posts on social media platforms and forwarding them to the companies with requests for action such as removing or otherwise suppressing their reach.
Encouraging or otherwise egging on social media companies to change their guidelines for the removal, suppression, or reduction of content that contains protected free speech by the government also isn’t allowed.
“This could be arguably one of the most important First Amendment cases in modern history,” Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, one of the plaintiffs, told The Epoch Times’ “American Thought Leaders” in an interview following the ruling.
“If you look at the opinion that the judge lays out, he takes from our argument that this is basically one of the most massive undertakings of the federal government to limit American speech in the history of our country. The things that we uncovered, in this case, should be both shocking, appalling, and concerning for all Americans.”
Doughty, a Trump appointee, wrote in the decision that the Republican attorneys general who sued the Biden administration “have produced evidence of a massive effort by Defendants, from the White House to federal agencies, to suppress speech based on its content.”
While the judge’s ruling isn’t final, the preliminary injunction is a victory for the Republican attorneys general, who have accused the Biden administration of pressuring big tech companies to engage in a censorship-by-proxy scheme.
“I think that this injunction today certainly begins curtailing government action, and telling social media companies what they can and cannot allow on their platforms,” Landry said.
‘All Were Suppressed’
The judge wrote in an accompanying memorandum that the plaintiffs are “likely to succeed on the merits in establishing that the Government has used its power to silence the opposition.”
“Opposition to COVID-19 vaccines; opposition to COVID-19 masking and lockdowns; opposition to the lab-leak theory of COVID-19; opposition to the validity of the 2020 election; opposition to President Biden’s policies; statements that the Hunter Biden laptop story was true; and opposition to policies of the government officials in power. All were suppressed,” Doughty wrote.
Landry gave examples of censorship-by-proxy at the hands of the Biden administration, including email chains between high-ranking White House officials and social media platforms targeting specific individuals, such as presidential hopeful Robert Kennedy Jr. and media personality Tucker Carlson, “directly targeting them and asking those social media platforms to take their content down.”
“There are a number of things that as we uncovered information in the discovery process of this case, that was shocking to us, all of that was presented to this judge,” Landry said. “And that’s what I think was compelling him to eventually do what he did today, which is to order and give us the injunction.”
Similarly, Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey hailed the decision in a series of posts on social media.
“The Court has granted our motion to BLOCK top officials in the federal government from violating the First Amendment rights of millions of Americans. What a way to celebrate Independence Day,” he said in a statement on Twitter.
“The preliminary injunction prohibits nearly all of the federal government, including DHS, DOJ, and HHS, from coercing and colluding with social media companies to censor free speech.”
However, the judge did make some exceptions in his order, allowing government officials to contact social media companies to alert them of criminal activity or threats to national security.
Also allowed are contacts notifying social media companies about posts intending to mislead voters about voting requirements or procedures, as well as communicating with companies about suppressing posts that aren’t protected free speech.
The injunction pertains to various named agencies as well as their agents, officers, employees, and contractors.
The White House and various agencies named in the injunction didn’t respond by press time to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.
Landry said he expects that the defendants will appeal the ruling and, in response, he and Bailey will “aggressively defend it,” noting that he thinks the case will eventually be heard before the U.S. Supreme Court.
“We’re not done yet,” Bailey wrote in a post. “We’re just getting started.”
‘Censorship Was Encouraged’
There are several lawsuits accusing the Biden administration of censorship-by-proxy by leaning on social media companies to suspend accounts or take down posts, the case brought by Louisiana and Missouri has advanced further than any other.
The judge overseeing the lawsuit refused to dismiss the case, finding in a March ruling (pdf) that Louisiana and Missouri’s free-speech claims were plausible and worthy of further litigation.
“This suit arises out of the alleged coercion by the Biden Administration and various government agencies and officials of social-media companies, urging those companies ‘to censor viewpoints and speakers disfavored by the Left,’” Doughty wrote in the March ruling.
The judge also permitted the plaintiffs to collect evidence, such as email communications between the White House and social media companies.
Doughty wrote in the March ruling that the plaintiffs allege that “this censorship was encouraged—perhaps even mandated—by the Biden Administration and several key governmental departments.”
More than 50 officials in the Biden administration across a dozen agencies were involved in efforts to pressure big tech companies to censor alleged misinformation, according to documents released last year.
In a recent op-ed for The Epoch Times, Landry wrote, “Like a cancer, this violation of the First Amendment has seeded itself deep within our federal institutions, and these government actors neither believe what they did was wrong nor have any qualms about doing it again.”