Supreme Court extends pause on appeals court's order in Biden social media case

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The Supreme Court on Friday extended a temporary pause to an appeals court order restricting the Biden administration’s role in social media companies’ content moderation while it considers whether to halt the ruling.

Justice Samuel Alito, who handles emergency requests from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, extended a brief pause of the injunction until Sept. 27.

The order is not an indication of how Alito will vote when the court decides whether to issue the longer pause.

The decision follows an appeal court’s determination that the Biden administration likely violated the First Amendment by urging social media companies to take down specific content. 

A three-person Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled that federal agencies cannot “coerce” social media platforms to remove posts countering the government’s stance. The White House, FBI and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were found by the panel to have crossed the line into coercion, while the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and State Department did not.

The Justice Department argued in court filings that the “startling” injunction issued by the panel imposed “unprecedented limits” on the government’s ability to respond to public concern, maintain national security and relay information.

“If allowed to take effect, the injunction would impose grave and irreparable harms on the government and the public,” U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar wrote in a court filing.

Two Republican attorneys general brought the case in a challenge to the Biden administration’s efforts to curb misinformation online, which they called a “campaign of censorship” by the government.

A federal judge sided with the attorneys general in July and blocked government officials from contacting social media companies over “any manner the removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech posted on social-media platforms.” The appeals court’s decision sharply narrowed that ruling.

The attorneys general argued in court filings that top Biden officials “threaten, pressure and coerce” social media platforms to censor “core political speech” — a state of play they called “intolerable to the First Amendment.”

“Federal interference fundamentally transforms online discourse, rendering entire viewpoints virtually unspeakable on social media,” they wrote.

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