On Friday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Texas law that restricts large social media platforms from censoring users’ online expressions of their viewpoints.
Signed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) last year, the law targets social media companies with more than 50 million active monthly users.
Two tech industry nonprofit organizations, NetChoice and Computer Communications Industry Association (CCIA), filed suit on the grounds that the law is unconstitutional. Members of NetChoice and CCIA include Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
On Friday, however, U.S. Circuit Court Judge Andrew Oldham rejected the plaintiff’s arguments and reversed the injunction on the law issued previously by the district court.
In his written opinion, Oldham, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, criticized the plaintiff’s argument as “a rather odd inversion of the First Amendment.”
“That Amendment, of course, protects every person’s right to ‘the freedom of speech,’” wrote Oldham. “But the platforms argue that buried somewhere in the person’s enumerated right to free speech lies a corporation’s unenumerated right to muzzle speech.”
“Today we reject the idea that corporations have a freewheeling First Amendment right to censor what people say,” Oldham concluded.
The ruling conflicts with a recent decision by the 11th Circuit concerning a similar law in Florida, thus increasing the likelihood that the U.S. Supreme Court will take up a case to address the circuit split on the issue.
“We remain convinced that when the U.S. Supreme Court hears one of our cases, it will uphold the First Amendment rights of websites, platforms, and apps,” stated Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel for NetChoice.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced the court ruling on Twitter, characterizing the judge’s decision as “a MASSIVE VICTORY for the Constitution & Free Speech.”
BREAKING: I just secured a MASSIVE VICTORY for the Constitution & Free Speech in fed court: #BigTech CANNOT censor the political voices of ANY Texan! The 5th Circuit “reject[s] the idea that corporations have a freewheeling First Amendment right to censor what people say. pic.twitter.com/UijlzYcv7r
— Attorney General Ken Paxton (@KenPaxtonTX) September 16, 2022
Critics of the law argue that, without the freedom to regulate their content, social media platforms will become a haven for extremist propaganda and hate speech.
“‘God Bless America’ and ‘Death to America’ are both viewpoints, and it is unwise and unconstitutional for the state of Texas to compel a private business to treat those the same,” expressed CCIA in a statement following the court decision.