The U.S. government has filed an emergency stay request to lift a recent injunction issued by a federal judge forbidding the government from violating Americans’ First Amendment rights by colluding with social media companies to censor their constitutionally protected speech.
In the emergency stay, the government contended that the injunction was vague and that the attorney generals could not show harm from the censorship, an argument that Judge Terry Doughty had rejected multiple times in the past.
“Defendants respectfully request that the Court stay its July 4 preliminary injunction pending Defendant’s appeal of that order,” the government argued. “The Government faces irreparable harm with each day the injunction remains in effect, as the injunction’s broad scope and ambiguous terms (including a lack of clarity with respect to what the injunction does not prohibit) may be read to prevent the Government from engaging in a vast range of lawful and responsible conduct—including speaking on matters of public concern and working with social media companies on initiatives to prevent grave harm to the American people and our democratic processes.”
“These immediate and ongoing harms to the Government outweigh any risk of injury to Plaintiffs if a stay is granted, and for the same reason, a stay is in the public interest,” the government added. “Moreover, Defendants have shown a substantial case on the merits regarding Plaintiffs’ lack of Article III standing and failure to present evidence substantiating their First Amendment claims. Accordingly, this Court should exercise its discretion to temporarily stay the preliminary injunction during the pendency of Defendants’ Fifth Circuit appeal.”
The government’s stay request thus clearly lays out that the government views its purported defense of “democracy” as trumping American citizens’ constitutionally protected rights.
The lawsuit, first filed by then Republican Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry in May, claimed White House officials colluded with or coerced Big Tech companies to “suppress disfavored speakers, viewpoints, and content” on their platforms with “dis-information,” “mis-information” and “mal-information” labels.
The injunction signifies a triumph for the state attorneys general, who allege that the Biden administration has sanctioned a “vast federal ‘Censorship Enterprise’” promoting tech giants to exclude politically undesirable perspectives and speakers. Conservatives who argue that the government is suppressing their speech also consider it a victory. The attorneys general claim that such actions constitute “the most blatant infringements of the First Amendment in US history.”
The injunction lists several constraints that might be imposed on federal authorities when dealing with tech firms, including discouraging them from urging, encouraging, or pressuring social media companies to suppress or remove protected free speech content.
Judge Doughty clarified that officials are permitted to converse with tech companies about posts or accounts linked with criminal activities like child pornography. He mentioned that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has relied on social media companies’ cooperation for years to identify pedophile networks. Officials will also be permitted to discuss national security threats, illicit political campaign activities, and cyberattacks.
While the final decision in the case is still pending, it is widely expected that Judge Doughty will side with the Republicans, bringing to a halt more than a decade of collaborative efforts between federal authorities and tech industry leaders who possess significant power to regulate public dialogue.