A federal appeals court has temporarily suspended a district court judge’s unusual order barring a wide range of federal officials and agencies from communicating with social media companies about content on their platforms.
On Friday, a three-judge panel considering emergency issues for the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit Court of Appeals granted the Biden administration’s request to stay the sweeping preliminary injunction for now. while the case is referred to another appeals panel which will consider a longer term stay of U.S. District Court Judge Terry Doughty’s Independence Day order.
This second panel will be the one to rule on the merits of Doughty’s ruling, in a lawsuit brought by Republican attorneys general from Missouri and Louisiana claiming Biden administration officials violated the First Amendment. pressuring social media companies to remove or edit user posts containing alleged misinformation about Covid-19, the election, and content from Hunter Biden’s laptop.
Justice Department and White House officials have complained that Doughty’s broadly-worded injunction prohibiting various officials and agencies from discouraging social media companies from hosting First Amendment-protected content was difficult to enforce. implement and could cause cautious federal officials to refuse to do business with companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google.
Doughty’s order included exceptions for various categories of content, including criminal activity, signs of malicious cyber activity and threats to public safety, but DOJ attorneys said those categories were poorly defined.
The reprieve – albeit temporary – underscores that Doughty’s decision is unlikely to be the final word on an issue that has been raging on the political right. Conservatives in the House questioned FBI Director Chris Wray about the decision during a hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
Additionally, the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Federal Militarization has scheduled a hearing Thursday to discuss the lawsuit that led to Doughty’s order. Among the scheduled witnesses is Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a longtime contender for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The appeals court order did not explain the rationale for what the court called a “temporary administrative stay” of Doughty’s injunction. Friday’s order was issued by Judge Carl Stewart, an appointee of President Bill Clinton; Judge James Graves, appointed by President Barack Obama; and Judge Andrew Oldham, appointed by President Donald Trump.
Doughty, based in Monroe, Louisiana, is also nominated by Trump.