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Supreme Court Blocks Texas' Social Media Censorship Law

The U.S. Supreme Court decision yesterday came down to a 5-4 vote, putting the law back on hold after recently being reinstated by a federal appeals court two weeks ago.

U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C.
The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday blocked a Texas law that would open large social media companies to the risk of lawsuits for moderating user content based on their viewpoints.

The decision came down to a 5-4 vote with Justices John G. Roberts, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett in the majority. Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr., Clarence Thomas and Neil M. Gorsuch dissented.

Justice Elena Kagan neither formally dissented nor was part of the majority. But stated in the court’s ruling she would have let the law stand, giving no further explanation regarding her decision.

As for the law in question, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott originally signed the bill on Sept. 9, 2021. At the time, he argued the law would “prevent conservative viewpoints from being banned on social media,” according to the Washington Post.

However, the law was put on hold in December 2021 after a federal district court judge ruled in favor of a lawsuit brought on by tech advocacy groups NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association. The groups claimed in the suit that the legislation violated the First Amendment.

Two weeks ago, though, the hold became null and void after a federal appeals court reinstated the law, allowing Texans to sue social media companies, like Facebook and Twitter, for censoring their content.

Because of the court’s decision to reinstate the bill, advocacy groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Texas, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Center for Democracy and Technology and other groups filed requests with the U.S. Supreme Court to issue an emergency order to block the lower court’s decision.

The Supreme Court granted their request; however, that doesn’t mean the court’s decision is the final word on the bill.

According to the court’s decision, the block will only stay in effect while the case moves through the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Once the lower court decides, the law’s fate could once again be in the hands of the Supreme Court.

“At issue is a ground-breaking Texas law that addresses the power of dominant social media corporations to shape public discussion of the important issues of the day,” Alito wrote in the court’s decision. “It is not at all obvious how our existing precedents, which predate the age of the Internet, should apply to large social media companies.”

Despite this uncertainty, members of different advocacy groups have spoken out about the Supreme Court’s decision, claiming it’s a step in the right direction.

“No online platform, website or newspaper should be directed by government officials to carry certain speech,” Matt Schruers, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, said in a statement. “This has been a key tenet of our democracy for more than 200 years, and the Supreme Court has upheld that.”

Chris Marchese, counsel at NetChoice, voiced a similar message saying in a written statement: “Texas’s HB 20 is a constitutional trainwreck — or, as the district court put it, an example of ‘burning the house to roast the pig.’ We are relieved that the First Amendment, open Internet and the users who rely on it remain protected from Texas’ unconstitutional overreach.”

Now, all eyes will be on the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to decide what happens next.