The Supreme Court temporarily blocked a Texas law that aims to prevent discriminative censorship on social media platforms.
The decision did not rule on the merits of the law but instead placed it on hold until federal courts decide whether it can be enforced.
The decision follows the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in mid-May lifting a district court injunction on the Texas anti-censorship law – HB 20 – which temporarily allowed the law to enter into effect. The law dictates that tech platforms with over 50 million monthly users cannot moderate users’ content on the basis of their viewpoints.
Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Elena Kagan wrote the dissenting opinion, although Kagan did not sign onto Alito’s opinion or explain her reasoning, according to a tweet by SCOTUSblog. The author of the dissenting opinion, Alito, noted Big Tech’s prolific ability to shape public opinion.
“Social media platforms have transformed the way people communicate with each other and obtain news,” Alito wrote. “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.”
He added, however, that he had “not formed a definitive view on the novel legal questions that arise from Texas’s decision to address the ‘changing social and economic’ conditions it perceives.”
Alito said this is why the law should have remained in place for now.
“While I can understand the [Supreme] Court’s apparent desire to delay enforcement of HB20 while the appeal is pending, the preliminary injunction entered by the District Court was itself a significant intrusion on state sovereignty, and Texas should not be required to seek preclearance from the federal courts before its laws go into effect,” Alito wrote.
NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), the Big Tech trade associations who asked for the injunction, praised the temporary pause. The industry groups represent companies including Amazon, Google and Twitter.
“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,’” NetChoice attorney Chris Marchese said in a statement. “We are relieved that the First Amendment, open internet, and the users who rely on it remain protected from Texas’s unconstitutional overreach.”
CCIA President Matt Schruers expressed similar sentiments.
“No online platform, website, or newspaper should be directed by government officials to carry certain speech,” Schruers 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.”
Today’s ruling followed an opinion from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals about a week ago that upheld a block on a similar law in Florida on the basis that it violated Big Tech companies’ free speech rights.
The case now proceeds to the district court for a ruling on the law’s merits.
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