Supreme Court Blocks Texas Social-Media Censorship Law

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The Supreme Court voted 5-4 to block Texas’s social-media censorship law that prohibits tech titans from de-platforming users over political expression.

The decision did not evaluate the law on its merits but prevents it from going into effect while the case proceeds in federal courts, which will determine whether it can be enforced.

The High Court’s ruling comes after a federal appeals court reinstated the Texas law earlier this month. Prior to that in December, a federal district court judge ruled in favor of the industry groups and suspended the law’s implementation pending further litigation, arguing that the First Amendment permits a company to moderate content on its platform.

In a dissent from the decision to lift the stay of the lower court, Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, and Elena Kagan, said he would have allowed the law to remain in effect. He noted that he has “not formed a definitive view on the novel legal questions that arise from Texas’s decision to address the ‘changing social and economic’ conditions it perceives.”

“But precisely because of that, I am not comfortable intervening at this point in the proceedings,” Alito wrote. “While I can understand the Court’s apparent desire to delay enforcement of HB20 while the appeal is pending, the preliminary injunction entered by the District Court was itself a significant intrusion on state sovereignty, and Texas should not be required to seek preclearance from the federal courts before its laws go into effect.”

Texas’s measure, modeling a similar version that passed in Florida in May 2021, bars Twitter, Facebook, and other social-media platforms from banning political candidates and from moderating or removing content based on viewpoint.

“HB20 would compel platforms to disseminate all sorts of objectionable viewpoints,” two industry groups which sued to block the law last fall on behalf of Amazon, Facebook, Google and Twitter wrote in a legal filing, “such as Russia’s propaganda claiming that its invasion of Ukraine is justified, ISIS propaganda claiming that extremism is warranted, neo-Nazi or KKK screeds denying or supporting the Holocaust, and encouraging children to engage in risky or unhealthy behavior like eating disorders.”

In response to the emergency application, Texas’ attorney general Ken Paxton wrote that the law does not “prohibit the platforms from removing entire categories of content.”

“So, for example,” the response says, “the platforms can decide to eliminate pornography without violating HB 20 … The platforms can also ban foreign government speech without violating HB 20, so they are not required to host Russia’s propaganda about Ukraine.”

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