The Supreme Court on Tuesday suspended a Texas law that would regulate how social media companies monitor content on their sites, while a legal battle continues over whether this action violates the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression.
The suspension was voted by five of the nine judges.
Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, said he had not made a decision on the law’s constitutionality but would have allowed it to take effect as the review continued.
Alito said the case deserves court review because “the case is Texas’ landmark law addressing the power of dominant social media companies to shape public discussion of today’s important issues.”
“It is not at all clear how our current precedents, which predate the Internet, should apply to large social media companies,” Alito said.
He said the state deserves its law to go into effect while it is being challenged, adding that “Texas should not be required to seek prior approval from the federal courts.”
Two Washington-based groups representing Google, Facebook and other tech giants filed an emergency petition with the Supreme Court on May 13, after the Texas law took effect after a panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit overturned a district court order has. blocked it.
The Washington Post said the appeals court order “provided no legal reasoning” and shocked social media sites, which have largely fended off efforts by Republican state leaders to regulate content moderation policies at social media companies.
“No online platform, website or newspaper should be directed by government officials to convey a particular discourse,” Matt Schroeser, president of the Computing and Communications Industry Association, told the paper. “This has been a central tenet of our democracy for more than 200 years.”
Texas and Florida are two states that have such laws, which the paper says are needed to combat “the tech industry’s suppression of conservative views.”
And if the nation’s two regional appeals courts are split on the legality of similar laws, there’s a good chance the Supreme Court will have to address the question of whether states might be able to prevent social media companies from removing posts based on a user’s political ideology or comments.
On May 23, a unanimous panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit said that much of the Florida law’s content violates the First Amendment, ruling that social media companies’ efforts to regulate the content of their platforms is rhetoric that the government cannot control.
In a detailed 67-page opinion, the three justices — all appointed by Republican presidents — unanimously rejected many of the legal arguments conservative states use to justify laws governing the moderation policies of big tech after years of ruling tech companies biased against their views. accused
Tech companies described the Texas law as an “unprecedented attack on the editorial discretion of private sites that will fundamentally transform their business models and services.”
The petition, filed by corporate representatives, noted “serious First Amendment problems with these new efforts by states to regulate a global phenomenon.”
“While the judiciary carefully reviews these important issues, the government should not force platforms to publish the worst discourse imaginable – such as white supremacy statements, Nazi partisans, Russian state propaganda, Holocaust denial and terrorist organization recruitment,” the statement said. petition.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (right) noted that the Supreme Court said social media sites are the gatekeepers of a digital “modern public discourse.”
He said the state law focuses on corporate conduct and does not violate the First Amendment, which protects private companies from government regulation of speech.
Because these companies are “descendants of the telegraph and telephone companies,” Paxton says, they should be treated as “common carriers,” subject to government regulation because of the essential nature of the services they provide, Paxton says.
Tech companies have aggressively fought the Texas law and similar legislation in other states, initially successfully in their legal challenge to the Texas law, in which a federal district judge blocked the law’s enforcement.
The tech industry has warned that the Texas law opens up companies to new legal threats that could discourage their efforts to remove offensive content including terrorism and violence, such as the recent videos circulating on social media of the Texas shooting.
Meanwhile, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the Republicans who drafted the law argued that it would prevent the ban on conservative views on social media.