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Supreme Court rejects challenge to Biden admin contact with social media companies

Written by on June 26, 2024

(WASHINGTON) — The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a First Amendment challenge to the Biden administration’s communication with social media companies in an effort to remove misinformation on the platforms about COVID-19 and the 2020 election.

The 6-3 opinion was authored by Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch dissented.

Barrett, writing for the majority, said two Republican-led states and five individual users lacked standing to sue the government because they could not show that the government outreach directly resulted in censorship of their views.

“The plaintiffs, without any concrete link between their injuries and the defendants’ conduct, ask us to conduct a review of the years-long communications between dozens of federal officials, across different agencies, with different social-media platforms, about different topics,” she wrote. “This Court’s standing doctrine prevents us from ‘exercis[ing such] general legal oversight’ of the other branches of Government.”

Barrett explained that the private companies, including Facebook and Twitter, have their own First Amendment rights and were lawfully moderating content on the platforms — removing and reducing posts — well before contact from the Biden administration.

The plaintiffs “must demonstrate a substantial risk that, in the near future, they will suffer an injury that is traceable to a government defendant,” Barrett wrote. The court concluded they did not meet that bar.

It is “entirely speculative” that the companies’ future moderation decisions “will be attributable, even in part, to the defendants,” Barrett said.

The ruling means executive branch agencies involved in the case — the White House, Surgeon General, CDC, FBI and CISA, among others — can continue to interact with social media companies over moderation of content on their platforms.

“The Supreme Court’s decision is the right one, and it helps ensure the Biden Administration can continue our important work with technology companies to protect the safety and security of the American people, after years of extreme and unfounded Republican attacks on public officials who engaged in critical work to keep Americans safe,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.

Public health and election integrity groups praised the decision as a win for efforts to ensure accurate information is available to users. National security analysts have said it will also ensure the government can continue to freely coordinate with the online companies over threats.

In dissent, Justice Alito wrote that the court was condoning a “serious threat to the First Amendment.”

“For months, high-ranking government officials placed unrelenting pressure on Facebook to suppress Americans’ free speech,” he wrote.

The case pit the government’s ability to persuade private companies to undertake certain action, which is generally lawful, against claims that it had ventured into coercion, at times badgering and threatening consequences, which potentially may not be lawful.

The Supreme Court did not offer any new guidelines for determining when government contact might cross the line, leaving those questions for another day.

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