A federal appeals court ruled that the Biden administration likely violated Americans' First Amendment rights when it worked to censor speech during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the Friday decision, the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals said the White House, surgeon general, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Federal Bureau of Investigation improperly commandeered speech.
"We find that the White House, acting in concert with the Surgeon General's office, likely coerced the platforms to make their moderation decisions ... and significantly encouraged the platforms' decisions," the three-judge panel wrote.
"We find that the FBI, too, likely coerced the platforms into moderating content, and encouraged them to do so by effecting changes to their moderation policies, both in violation of the First Amendment," it added.
The decision modifies a lower court preliminary injunction which prohibited a wide-ranging group of government officials from coercing social media platforms to take down or limit posts on their websites.
While agreeing with much of the lower court's premises, the new order limits the scope of the restrictions imposed to the groups it found culpable — the White House, surgeon general, CDC, and FBI.
The Fifth Circuit had previously temporarily blocked the injunction, issued by Judge Terry A. Doughty of the federal District Court in Western Louisiana.
Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey and former state Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who initiated the lawsuit and is now a U.S. senator, commended the decision shortly after it was announced.
"This is another massive victory for free speech," stated Schmitt, R-Mo. "Because of Missouri v. Biden, the federal government is prohibited yet again from colluding with social media giants to censor freedom of speech online."
A White House spokesperson told The Washington Post that the administration was reviewing the decision and evaluating its options.
"Our consistent view remains that social media platforms have a critical responsibility to take account of the effects their platforms are having on the American people, but make independent choices about the information they present," the spokesperson stated.
An appeal of the order would bring the debate before the Supreme Court, which is already slated to take up lower court rulings over social media laws later this year.
Luca Cacciatore ✉
Luca Cacciatore, a Newsmax general assignment writer, is based in Arlington, Virginia, reporting on news and politics.
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