A federal appeals court ruled that the federal government violated the Constitution when it coordinated with social media companies to censor content during the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2022 Midterm Elections.
On September 8, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that “numerous federal officials coerced social-media platforms into censoring certain social-media content, in violation of the First Amendment.”
The court said the White House, the Surgeon General, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) flouted the First Amendment by coercing or encouraging social-media platforms to censor content. The involvement of government officials in the content decisions of social media companies “render[ed] those decisions state actions,” thereby triggering the U.S. Constitution’s Free Speech Clause.
The Fifth Circuit said that federal officials illegally restricted content on “a host of divisive topics like the COVID-19 lab-leak theory, pandemic lockdowns, vaccine side-effects, election fraud, and the Hunter Biden laptop story.”
In one email, a White House official told a platform to take down a post “ASAP.” Another official demanded a platform “remove [an] account immediately” and said that he could not “stress the degree to which this needs to be resolved immediately.”
The court added:
[The nation’s judicial system] has rarely been faced with a coordinated campaign of this magnitude orchestrated by federal officials that jeopardized a fundamental aspect of American life.
The ruling mostly upheld a July 4, 2023, preliminary injunction issued by Judge Terry A. Doughty, Chief United States District Judge for the Western District of Louisiana.
Judge Doughty had issued a broader ruling, also enjoining officials in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Census Bureau.
The Fifth Circuit found that those agencies “were permissibly exercising government speech” in their coordination with social media platforms; however, the White House, Surgeon General, CDC and FBI were not.
“The officials have engaged in a board pressure campaign designed to coerce social-media companies into suppressing speakers, viewpoints, and content disfavored by the government,” the court said. “The harms that radiate from such conduct … impacts every social-media user.”
Therefore, the court ordered that dozens of government officials from the White House, CDC and FBI, among other officials, cannot contact social media companies to influence their content moderation decisions.
The Fifth Circuit delayed implementation of its injunction for 10 days to permit the government time to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The lawsuit was filed by Drs. Jay Bhattacharya and Martin Kulldorff, professors from Stanford and Harvard respectively, both epidemiologists who co-authored the Great Barrington Declaration in 2020. Other parties to the lawsuit included Jill Hines, Aaron Kheriaty, Jim Hoft and the states of Missouri and Louisiana.
Both Bhattacharya and Kulldorff, despite being well-respected and renowned medical experts from establishment institutions, had their social media content censored during the COVID-19 pandemic.
After the ruling, Dr. Bhattacharya posted on X, formerly known as Twitter:
I have been an American citizen since I was 19 years old. Never did I imagine that an American government would conspire to violate my free speech rights.
But that is what the Biden Administration did, as the 5th Circult just confirmed.
I am thankful for the US Constitution.
— Jay Bhattacharya (@DrJBhattacharya) September 9, 2023
The court’s ruling was unanimous and decided by Judges Edith Clement, Jennifer Elrod and Don Willett.
Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey said after the ruling,
Our team will continue to construct this wall of separation between tech and state. Yesterday’s ruling was one more brick laid in that foundation. Your First Amendment rights are not up for debate.
In effect, such censorship grants government nearly unlimited powers over speech on social media that it doesn’t like – something the court has now found to be unconstitutional.
The First Amendment provides:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances (emphasis added).
On January 17, 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower gave his Farewell Address and presciently warned the American people against the class of scientific elites who could corrupt and control public policy.
In holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.
When this “elitism” is imposed by unelected government officials, it becomes all the more pernicious.
Thankfully, the Fifth Circuit protected Americans’ freedom of speech; hopefully the nation’s high court will concur. The Daily Citizen will keep you apprised of important developments in this case.
The case is Missouri v. Biden.
Related articles and resources:
Photo from Shutterstock.