NATIONAL NEWS

A Supreme Court ruling in a social media case could set standards for free speech in the digital age

Mar 18, 2024, 9:02 AM

FILE: A general view of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 1, 2021, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew A...

FILE: A general view of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 1, 2021, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a busy term that could set standards for free speech in the digital age, the Supreme Court on Monday is taking up a dispute between Republican-led states and the Biden administration over how far the federal government can go to combat controversial social media posts on topics including COVID-19 and election security.

The justices are hearing arguments in a lawsuit filed by Louisiana, Missouri and other parties accusing officials in the Democratic administration of leaning on the social media platforms to unconstitutionally squelch conservative points of view. Lower courts have sided with the states, but the Supreme Court blocked those rulings while it considers the issue.

The high court is in the midst of a term heavy with social media issues. On Friday, the court laid out standards for when public officials can block their social media followers. Less than a month ago, the court heard arguments over Republican-passed laws in Florida and Texas that prohibit large social media companies from taking down posts because of the views they express.

The cases over state laws and the one being argued Monday are variations on the same theme, complaints that the platforms are censoring conservative viewpoints.

The states argue that White House communications staffers, the surgeon general, the FBI and the U.S. cybersecurity agency are among those who coerced changes in online content on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter) and other media platforms.

“It’s a very, very threatening thing when the federal government uses the power and authority of the government to block people from exercising their freedom of speech,” Louisiana Attorney General Liz Murrill said in a video her office posted online.

The administration responds that none of the actions the states complain about come close to problematic coercion. The states “still have not identified any instance in which any government official sought to coerce a platform’s editorial decisions with a threat of adverse government action,” wrote Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, the administration’s top Supreme Court lawyer. Prelogar wrote that states also can’t “point to any evidence that the government ever imposed any sanction when the platforms declined to moderate content the government had flagged — as routinely occurred.”

The companies themselves are not involved in the case.

Free speech advocates say the court should use the case to draw an appropriate line between the government’s acceptable use of the bully pulpit and coercive threats to free speech.

“The government has no authority to threaten platforms into censoring protected speech, but it must have the ability to participate in public discourse so that it can effectively govern and inform the public of its views,” Alex Abdo, litigation director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, said in a statement.

A panel of three judges on the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled earlier that the Biden administration had probably brought unconstitutional pressure on the media platforms. The appellate panel said officials cannot attempt to “coerce or significantly encourage” changes in online content. The panel had previously narrowed a more sweeping order from a federal judge, who wanted to include even more government officials and prohibit mere encouragement of content changes.

A divided Supreme Court put the 5th Circuit ruling on hold in October, when it agreed to take up the case.

Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas would have rejected the emergency appeal from the Biden administration.

Alito wrote in dissent in October: “At this time in the history of our country, what the Court has done, I fear, will be seen by some as giving the Government a green light to use heavy-handed tactics to skew the presentation of views on the medium that increasingly dominates the dissemination of news. That is most unfortunate.”

A decision in Murthy v. Missouri, 23-411, is expected by early summer.

KSL 5 TV Live

National News

Manuel Rocha sitting at a desk smiling...

Denise Royal, Carlos Suarez and Ray Sanchez, CNN

Former US diplomat sentenced to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to spying for Cuba

Manuel Rocha, the former US ambassador to Bolivia who acted as a secret foreign agent of Cuba, was sentenced to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to federal charges Friday

6 hours ago

The Google sign is shown over an entrance to the company's new building in New York on Wednesday, S...

Adam Beam and Tran Nguyen, Associated Press

In threat to legislature, Google removes news sites from searches

In an acting threat against the California legislature, Google began removing California news websites from searches on Friday.

6 hours ago

FILE - Border Patrol station in Harlingen, Texas. (David Pike/Valley Morning Star via AP, File)Cred...

Associated Press

Amid increased enforcement in Mexico, US Border arrests fall

Arrests for illegally crossing the US border fell by 2.3% from February to March.

6 hours ago

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 28: Hunter Biden, son of U.S. President Joe Biden, listens as his attorne...

Alanna Durkin Richer and Lindsay Whitehurst, Associated Press

Judge rules Hunter Biden gun case will move forward, rejects political motivation

A Delaware federal judge refused to dismiss a case against Hunter Biden, rejecting claims about its political motivation.

6 hours ago

Handcuffs...

Carolyn Thompson and Jim Mustian, AP

DEA Agent convicted for obstruction, walks away from Buffalo bribe charges

A federal jury convicted a former DEA agent of obstruction, but could not reach a verdict on bribery charges.

6 hours ago

PALM BEACH, FLORIDA - APRIL 12: Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump and...

Lisa Mascaro and Jill Colvin, Associated Press

Trump gives support to embattled Speaker Mike Johnson at pivotal Mar-a-Lago meet

Donald Trump has given his support to embattled House Speaker Mike Johnson during a visit to the Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.

9 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why Printer Security Should Be Top of Mind for Your Business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

A Supreme Court ruling in a social media case could set standards for free speech in the digital age