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Supreme Court freezes ruling that would curb government contact with social media companies

Lower courts have ruled that some government agencies and officials should be restricted from communicating and meeting with social media companies to moderate content.
The Supreme Court
The Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to block lower court rulings that restricted the Biden administration's interactions with social media companies about content posted by their users.Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday temporarily blocked a lower court ruling that would restrict the Biden administration's contact with social media companies.

Conservative Justice Samuel Alito issued the brief less than two hours after the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to step in.

It gives the court more time to consider what steps to take before it decided whether to grant the administration's request. In the meantime, the lower court ruling will remain on hold until midnight Sept. 22.

Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar urged the Supreme Court to stay an injunction issued by the U.S. District Court for Western Louisiana in July, which was partly upheld by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week. The district judge had ruled this year that some government agencies and Biden administration officials should be restricted from communicating and meeting with social media companies in order to moderate their content.

The decision is in response to a lawsuit from the GOP attorneys general in Louisiana and Missouri, who alleged U.S. government officials went too far in pressing social media companies to address posts related to Covid-19 vaccines and the 2020 election.

Alito's order, which does not mean the court will necessarily grant Prelogar's request once it is considered in more detail, said the states should respond by Wednesday.

Late last week, the New Orleans-based appeals court narrowed most of that injunction but ordered the White House, the FBI and top health officials not to "coerce or significantly encourage" social media companies to remove content the Biden administration considers to be misinformation.

Prelogar's filing Thursday said the government's request concerned "an unprecedented injunction" that "flouts bedrock principles of Article III, the First Amendment, and equity."

"The implications of the Fifth Circuit’s holdings are startling," Prelogar wrote. "The court imposed unprecedented limits on the ability of the President’s closest aides to use the bully pulpit to address matters of public concern, on the FBI’s ability to address threats to the Nation’s security, and on the CDC’s ability to relay public health information at platforms’ request."

Prelogar argued that the original injunction is "vastly overbroad," saying that "it covers thousands of federal officers and employees, and it applies to communications with and about all social media platforms" regarding content moderation on such topics as national security and criminal matters.

“If allowed to take effect, the injunction would impose grave and irreparable harms on the government and the public,” she warned. Prelogar said the Justice Department intends to ask the court by Oct. 13 to review the case, adding that the court could take Thursday's filing as such a request to expedite matters without the need for further briefings.