By Andrew Chung
(Reuters) -The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday maintained a block on restrictions imposed by lower courts on the ability of President Joe Biden’s administration to encourage social media companies to remove content deemed misinformation, including about elections and COVID-19.
Conservative Justice Samuel Alito temporarily put on hold a preliminary injunction constraining how the White House and certain other federal officials communicate with social media platforms pending the administration’s appeal to the Supreme Court.
The Republican attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana and a group of social media users had sued federal officials, accusing them of unlawfully helping suppress conservative-leaning speech on major social medial platforms, such as Meta’s Facebook, Alphabet’s YouTube and X, formerly called Twitter.
Friday’s action keeps the matter on hold until Oct. 20. This gives the justices more time to consider the administration’s request to block an injunction issued by a lower court that had concluded that administration officials likely coerced the companies into censoring certain posts, in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment free speech protections.
Alito first placed a temporary hold on the injunction pending the justices’ review on Sept. 14. That pause lapsed as a lower appeals court reheard the matter. Alito is the justice designated by the court to act on certain matters arising from a group of states that include Louisiana, where the lawsuit was first filed.
The case represents one of numerous legal battles underway pitting free speech against content moderation on the internet, with many Democrats and liberals warning of platforms’ amplification of misinformation and disinformation about public health, vaccines and election fraud and conservatives and Republicans accusing platforms of censoring their views.
The Biden administration has argued that its officials did nothing illegal and had sought to mitigate the hazards of online misinformation, including about the pandemic, by alerting social media companies to content that violated their own policies.
Louisiana-based U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty issued a preliminary injunction in July. Doughty found that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on their claim that the administration helped suppress “disfavored conservative speech” by suppressing views on masking, lockdowns and vaccines intended as public health measures during the pandemic or that questioned the validity of the 2020 election in which Biden, a Democrat, defeated Donald Trump, a Republican.
The 5th Circuit has narrowed the injunction, but affirmed that it constrains White House, Office of the Surgeon General, FBI, CDC, and the U.S. Cybsecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)
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