A federal judge has prohibited Biden administration officials from communicating with social media platforms about “protected speech,” a ruling emerging from litigation originally filed by former Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt.
Tuesday’s ruling, by Judge Terry A. Doughty of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, granted a temporary injunction barring numerous federal agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, from 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.”
Federal agencies are still allowed to notify the companies about crimes, national security threats, or foreign attempts to influence elections.
The litigation was filed last year by Schmitt and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry. It alleges the federal government colluded with social media companies like Twitter and Facebook to suppress the freedom of speech.
Doughty, a Trump-appointed judge, has not issued a final ruling but wrote that plaintiffs “have produced evidence of a massive effort by defendants, from the White House to federal agencies, to suppress speech based on its content.”
Government attorneys argued federal officials lack authority to order content removed from social media platforms, accusing GOP attorneys general of misrepresenting communications with companies about public health disinformation and election conspiracies.
Schmitt, who was elected to the U.S. Senate in November, celebrated the injunction on Twitter, calling it a “big win for the First Amendment on this Independence Day.”
While Missouri and Louisiana filed the case, over the last year a number of additional plaintiffs were added who have run into issues with social media companies for spreading misinformation online.
That includes Jim Hoft, founder of the right-wing conspiracy website Gateway Pundit, who was added to the lawsuit in August.
Hoft’s website has spread debunked conspiracies on a wide range of topics, from the 2018 Parkland school shooting to former President Barack Obama’s birth certificate.
More recently, Hoft has been among the biggest purveyors of election fraud lies. He faces a defamation lawsuit in St. Louis circuit court filed by two Georgia election workers who faced death threats following Gateway Pundit’s false stories about a vote-rigging scheme.
Schmitt’s lawsuit also attracted support from high-profile leaders of the anti-vaccine movement, including now-presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
–Jason Hancock, Florida Phoenix