Justice Samuel Alito said Friday that the Supreme Court majority’s decision to pause a lower court injunction blocking the Biden administration from coercing social media companies to censor speech may be perceived as giving a “green light” to the government’s use of “heavy-handed tactics” to suppress speech.
The Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear a landmark free speech case, Missouri v. Biden, that challenges the Biden administration’s communications with social media companies to censor speech. But, until the case can be heard, it also granted the Biden administration’s request to pause the lower court’s order, a decision Alito slammed in a dissent joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch as “unreasoned,” and said “allows the defendants to persist in committing the type of First Amendment violations that the lower courts identified.”
“At this time in the history of our country, what the Court has done, I fear, will be seen by some as giving the Government a green light to use heavy-handed tactics to skew the presentation of views on the medium that increasingly dominates the dissemination of news,” Alito wrote. “That is most unfortunate.”
Alito sharply criticized the Biden administration’s reasons for requesting the stay, writing that the injunction “applies only when the Government crosses the line and begins to coerce or control others’ exercise of their free-speech rights.”
“Does the Government think that the First Amendment allows Executive Branch officials to engage in such conduct?” Alito questioned. “Does it have plans for this to occur between now and the time when this case is decided?”
In earlier filings with the Court, Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar argued on behalf of the government that the lower court’s injunction limited “the President’s closest aides to use the bully pulpit to address matters of public concern.”
District of Louisiana Judge Terry A. Doughty issued the initial injunction in July. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals then narrowed the injunction to include only the White House, the surgeon general, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and FBI to say that they violated the First Amendment in September, expanding it in October to also include the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).
“This is the worst First Amendment violation in our nation’s history,” Republican Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey said in a statement Friday. “We look forward to dismantling Joe Biden’s vast censorship enterprise at the nation’s highest court.”
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