NEW ORLEANS, July 10 (AP) — A federal judge in Louisiana on Monday refused to put on hold his own order limiting access by Biden administration officials to social media companies.
Lawyers for the Biden administration asked U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty in Monroe to stay the order issued last Tuesday pending an appeal. The order follows a lawsuit brought by Republican attorneys general of Louisiana and Missouri, a conservative website owner and four critics of the administration’s COVID-19 policies.
The lawsuit alleges that the government effectively censors free speech by taking regulatory action or threats of protection, while pressuring businesses to remove what it deems misinformation. The COVID-19 vaccine, legal issues involving President Joe Biden’s son Hunter and allegations of election fraud are among the topics of interest in the lawsuit.
Doughty was nominated to serve as a federal judge by former President Donald Trump. His injunction prohibits the Department of Health and Human Services, the FBI, and multiple other government agencies and administration officials from meeting or contacting social media companies to “encourage, pressure, or induce in any way to delete, delete, suppress, or reduce content that contains protected free speech content.”
“Defendants did not identify any specific conduct that they claimed was lawful but was prevented by the injunction,” Doughty said in Monday’s ruling. He declined to block his order in an appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. The government can also ask the appeals court for a stay.
Government lawyers argued that the companies control their own policies on misinformation and that the lawsuit views officials’ comments on issues and policies as threats. The administration said Doughty’s Fourth of July order was unclear who in the executive branch it covered and what they could or could not say about important topics discussed on social media platforms.
In requesting a stay on Thursday night, government lawyers said the order could prevent the government from “taking a broad range of lawful and responsible action” that could cause “serious harm”.
The government “appears to be playing something akin to an Orwellian ministry of truth,” the Doughty order said. The order, which remains in effect pending further debate in Doughty’s court, was hailed by conservatives as a victory for free speech and a blow to censorship. But critics say the more than 160-page order and accompanying rationale are broad and unclear and could hamper the administration’s efforts to combat misinformation on important topics.
Those criticisms were echoed in the government’s request for a stay on Thursday night. “The potential breadth of entities and employees covered by the injunction, combined with the broad substantive scope of the injunction, will impact a wide range of lawful government actions related to defendants’ law enforcement responsibilities, obligations to protect national security, and the privilege to speak on issues .a matter of public concern,” the administration’s motion said.
Plaintiffs in the suit filed over the weekend to oppose a stay of the lawsuit. Among the points of contention is that the July 4 ban provides exemptions that allow officials to contact social media companies about posts involving criminal activity or threats to public safety; national security threats; election-related issues, including attempts to suppress voters, threats to voting infrastructure and illegal campaign contributions; and said officials could continue to “use permissible public government discourse to promote government policy or views on issues of public concern.” (Associated Press)
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