The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday temporarily halted a lower court’s ruling that restricts Biden administration and federal government communications with social media companies in relation to controversial content online.
The Justice Department on Monday requested a stay to federal judge Terry Doughty’s ruling last week that U.S. Digital Services administrator Mina Hsiang, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency chief Jen Easterly as well as a number of major federal agencies be restricted from interacting with social media firms for the purpose of discouraging or removing First Amendment-protected speech.
Doughty, a Trump-appointed judge of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, denied the Justice Department’s prior request for a stay, arguing that his preliminary injunction ruling wasn’t as broad as it appeared and only prohibited contacting social media companies for the purposes of suppressing free speech. The fifth circuit ruling temporarily pauses Doughty’s ruling.
Doughty’s original judgement marked a victory for Republicans who have accused federal government and White House officials of censorship while Democrats pushed back on the ruling arguing that social media platforms have failed to address rampant cases of misinformation.
In its filing to the fifth circuit, the Justice Department warned that Doughty’s initial ruling could potentially restrict a broad and essential part of communications between the government and social media platforms, such as preventing the president from asking platforms to act responsibly regarding misinformation about a natural disaster circulating online.
The DOJ also said that Doughty’s ruling has the potential to stop communications between the government and social media platforms regarding national issues like the fentanyl crisis or the security of federal elections, warning that that the ruling could create legal ambiguity that could lead to “disastrous delays” in responding to misinformation online.
The Justice Department filing indicated that the DOJ would also consider bringing the case to the Supreme Court and therefore asked the appeals court for a 10-day stay, at minimum, for the highest court in the land to consider an application for a stay.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to request for comment.