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Supreme Court Rejects Conservative States’ Challenge to Biden Admin Censoring Social Media Posts

By Jake Beardslee · June 26, 2024

The Supreme Court handed down a victory for the Biden administration on Wednesday in a case concerning the extent of the federal government's ability to pressure firms to remove controversial social media posts.

The dispute involved Republican-led states challenging engagement between the administration and social media companies to curb misinformation about topics such as COVID-19 vaccines and election security.

The case centered on claims from Missouri and Louisiana that White House officials had applied "unrelenting pressure" on platforms like Facebook to censor certain viewpoints, according to The Associated Press.  Solen Feyissa / Unsplash

However, by a vote of 6-3, the Court ruled in the case of Murthy v. Missouri that those challenging the government's conduct failed to prove their right to sue. Writing for the majority, Justice Amy Coney Barrett said the plaintiffs did not establish that the companies' actions could be directly attributed to pressure from the administration. As a result, the justices decided not to weigh in on the substance of the claims.  Ian Hutchinson / Unsplash

"We begin — and end — with standing," Barrett wrote. "At this stage, neither the individual nor the state plaintiffs have established standing to seek an injunction against any defendant. We therefore lack jurisdiction to reach the merits of the dispute."  United States Supreme Court / Wikimedia

The case stemmed from the Biden administration's efforts to counter misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines, election interference, and other issues. Missouri and Louisiana argued outreach from officials like the White House and Surgeon General amounted to coercing censorship.  The White House / Wikimedia

Supporters argued the ruling preserves the government's ability to engage companies on vital public matters, like combatting voting misinformation. Critics warned it could enable unchecked pressure on platforms.  Dole777 / Unsplash

In dissent, Justice Alito argued the states "amply" demonstrated their right to sue, writing that "for months, high-ranking government officials placed unrelenting pressure on Facebook to suppress Americans’ free speech." He was joined by Justices Gorsuch and Thomas.  Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States / Wikimedia

The decision does not affect how typical users post to social media. While not addressing the substance of the claims, it limits challenges to the administration's discussions with platforms regarding content oversight. The court avoided setting a clear line between appropriate government communications and impermissible coercion on the issue.  Austin Distel / Unsplash