WASHINGTON, May 31, 2022 – In a close 5-4 vote, the United States Supreme Court Tuesday blocked a Texas law which Republicans say would solve the “censorship” of conservative voices on social media platforms.
Texas HB 20 was written by Texas Republicans to address perceived bias against conservative views expressed on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms with at least 50 million active monthly users.
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The bill was drafted at least in part in reaction to the President that of Donald Trump social media ban. Immediately following the January 6 riots at the United States Capitol, Trump was simultaneously banned from multiple online platforms and retailers, including Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and a myriad of other websites.
See also Explainer: With Florida’s social media law, Section 230 is now in the legal spotlight, Broadband Breakfast, May 25, 2021
Close Ruling on First Amendment Principles
A brief six-page dissent on the matter was published on Tuesday. Conservative judges Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuchand Clarence Thomas dissenting, arguing that the law should have been upheld. Justice Elena Kagan also agreed that the law should be allowed, although she did not join Alito’s written dissent and did not provide further details.
The ruling involved an emergency action to overturn a one-sentence ruling by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals court had overturned an earlier stay by a federal district court. In other words, the law passed by the Texas legislature and signed by the governor. Greg Abbott is prevented from entering into force.
Tech lobby group NetChoice — in addition to numerous Silicon Valley entities — argued the law would prevent social media platforms from moderating and addressing hateful and potentially inflammatory content.
In a statement, the president of the Computer & Communications Industry Association matt schruer said, “We are encouraged that this assault on First Amendment rights has been halted until a court can fully assess the repercussions of Texas’ ill-conceived law.”
“This decision means that private American companies will have the opportunity to be heard in court before being forced to distribute despicable, abusive or extremist content under this Texas law. We appreciate the Supreme Court’s assurance that First Amendment protections, including the right not to be compelled to speak, will be upheld in the legal challenge to Texas’ social media law.
In a statement, Public Knowledge Legal Director John Bergmayer said, “It is good that the Supreme Court has blocked HB 20, the Texas law regulating online speech. But it should have been unanimous. It is alarming that so many policy makers, and even Supreme Court justices, are willing to discard basic principles of free speech to try to control the power of Big Tech for their own ends, instead of try to limit that power through antitrust and other competitions. Strategies. Limiting the power of tech giants doesn’t require abandoning the First Amendment.
In his dissentAlito pointed out that the plaintiffs argued that “HB 20 interferes with their exercise of ‘editorial discretion’ and they argue that such interference violates their right ‘not to broadcast speech generated by others’.”
“In certain circumstances, we have recognized the right of organizations to refuse to host the speech of others,” he said, referring to Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston, Inc.
“But we have rejected such claims in other circumstances,” he continued, pointing out PruneYard Mall vs. Robins.
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“It’s not at all clear how our existing precedents, which predate the internet age, should apply to large social media companies, but Texas argues that its law is authorized by our case law. “, said Alito.
Alito argued that there is a distinction between requiring a platform to host a post and refraining from discriminating against a user’s speech “based on point of view.” He said HB 20 took the latter approach.
Alito went on to say that the bill only applies to “platforms that present themselves as ‘open to the public'” and “neutral forums for the speech of others”, and that targeting platforms do not therefore not broadcast the messages they approve of.
Alito added that because the bill only targets platforms with more than 50 million users, it only targets entities with “some measure of common carrier-type market power and that power gives an opportunity to withdraw”. [disfavored] speakers.'”
judges John Roberts, Stephane Breyer, Sonya Sotomayor, Brett Kavanaughand Amy Coney Barrett all voted in the affirmative – siding with NetChoice LLC’s emergency request – to prevent the application of HB 20.