A federal appeals court has temporarily stayed a lower court ruling that restricted the US government’s ability to challenge social media companies over controversial content broadcast on their platforms.
The federal government asked the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans to stay the order issued by Federal Judge Terry Doughty on July 4. Doughty had previously denied a request to put his ruling on hold while the appeal proceeded.
The new order stays Doughty’s ruling “until further orders are issued by the court” and calls for an early date to present arguments.
The lawsuit, filed last year, alleged that the government was infringing on free speech by mentioning possible regulatory measures that could put pressure on social networks to remove content deemed disinformation. The lawsuit addressed issues such as COVID-19 vaccines, the legal problems of President Joe Biden’s son and allegations of voter fraud.
Doughty, appointed by former President Donald Trump, issued an order explaining his reasons in more than 160 pages. He maintained that the plaintiffs would probably win their case over him. His order prohibited the Department of Health and Human Services, the FBI, and other government agencies from “encouraging, lobbying, or in any way causing the removal, suppression, or reduction of content protected by free speech.”
Government lawyers argued that the order was too broad and vague, limiting what officials could say in their conversations with social media companies or in public statements. They further noted that Doughty’s order posed a “serious” threat to public safety by hampering government efforts to combat disinformation.
Doughty denied the administration’s request to suspend the order, stating: “Defendants argue that the order should be suspended because it could interfere with the government’s ability to continue to work with social media companies to censor public speech based on points of view. In other words, the government wants the order suspended so that it can continue to violate the First Amendment.”
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