U.S. District Court Judge Terry A. Doughty has ruled that the Biden administration likely violated the First Amendment during the pandemic. [Source]
This alleged violation centers around the administration’s supposed involvement in instructing social media giants to censor information related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Judge Doughty perceived the government’s actions during the pandemic as concerning. In a preliminary injunction, he stated, “During the COVID-19 pandemic, a period perhaps best characterized by widespread doubt and uncertainty, the United States Government seems to have assumed a role similar to an Orwellian ‘Ministry of Truth.'” [Source]
Following this concern, Judge Doughty, who former President Donald Trump appointed, placed restrictions on certain government agencies and officials, barring them from contacting social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. [Source]
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, and all Justice Department and FBI employees are subject to these restrictions.
Judge Doughty’s injunction is a development in a lawsuit initiated by the Republican attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana.
The lawsuit argues that the administration overstepped its bounds by issuing directives to social media platforms, asking them to remove posts deemed misleading or false about the coronavirus and election security.
Republican attorneys general launched the lawsuit in 2022. Why did it take so long to reach a ruling?
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals stepped in, halting the planned depositions of three Biden administration officials: Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Jen Easterly, and White House Director of Digital Strategy Rob Flaherty. [Source]
The appeals court directed the district court to carefully consider whether this information could be gathered through alternative methods, such as further written discovery or depositions of lower-ranking officials, before allowing any depositions to proceed.
The appeals court also advised Judge Doughty to determine the overall viability of the lawsuit before permitting the disputed depositions.
We now have that ruling, and it’s not the outcome the Biden administration anticipated.
In the preliminary injunction, Judge Doughty finds the government’s actions to “likely violate the Free Speech Clause.” He further states that the court “is not persuaded by the Defendants’ arguments.”
The ruling prevents the Department of Health and Human Services and the FBI from communicating with 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” under the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. [Source]
However, he did make exceptions for communications related to national security risks and criminal activity.
Judge Doughty’s ruling takes effect immediately, but the Biden administration can appeal the decision.
This court ruling highlights the administration’s alleged attempts to infringe on the public’s constitutional right to free speech and access to information.
It also represents a victory for the attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana. Missouri AG Andrew Bailey expressed his satisfaction with the ruling on Twitter, saying, “Happy birthday America. You get your First Amendment back!!!”
We now await further developments as Judge Doughty continues his investigation into the case.