Supreme Court rejects challenge to Biden admin's talk with social media companies

The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected challenges to Biden administration officials’ communications with social media companies aimed at combatting misinformation online. 

The 6-3 decision does not address the First Amendment issues at the center of the cases and instead denies the challenge brought by two Republican attorneys general and private parties by finding they didn’t have legal standing. 

“The plaintiffs, without any concrete link between their injuries and the defendants’ conduct, ask us to conduct a review of the years-long communications between dozens of federal officials, across different agencies, with different social-media platforms, about different conduct,” Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote. “This Court’s standing doctrine prevents us from ‘exercising such general legal oversight’ of other branches of Government.” 

In the dissenting opinion, Justice Samuel Alito scolded his fellow justices for failing to decide the issue based on its First Amendment implications.

“The Court, however, shirks that duty and thus permits the successful campaign of coercion in this case to stand as an attractive model for future officials who want to control what the people say, hear, and think,” Alito wrote. “That is regrettable.”

The attorneys general accused the government of having “coordinated and colluded” with social media platforms to target conservative users and viewpoints. 

The decision deals a blow to efforts to curb the government’s role in social media companies’ moderation of content spreading false or misleading information online. Attempts to police controversial posts about the legitimacy of the 2020 election and COVID-19 – which the attorneys general called a “campaign of censorship – were at the heart of the case. 

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals previously found that the White House, FBI, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) did cross that line.  

Louisiana Solicitor General Benjamin Aguiñaga, who argued on behalf of the states in March, asserted that, in most circumstances, the government should not ask platforms to remove any content at all. Several justices pushed back against the sweeping contention, suggesting that the government’s responsibility to protect its citizens could sometimes outweigh their First Amendment rights.  

The Justice Department has argued that blocking communication between federal officials and social media companies could limit the government’s ability to address matters of public concern, prevent national security threats and relay information. 

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