The Department of Justice on Monday requested the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to pause a controversial legal ruling that puts aggressive restrictions on federal government communications with social media companies, arguing that the preliminary injunction could impede law enforcement efforts to protect national security interests.
The DOJ request for a stay is in response 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 are restricted from interacting with social media firms for the purpose of discouraging or removing First Amendment-protected speech.
The 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.
“May federal officials respond to a false story on influential social-media accounts with a public statement, or a statement to the platforms hosting the accounts, refuting the story? May they urge the public to trust neither the story nor the platforms that disseminate it?,” the Justice Department asked in its request for Doughty’s ruling to be paused for 10 days.
“May they answer unsolicited questions from platforms about whether the story is false if the platforms’ policies call for the removal of falsehoods? No plausible interpretation of the First Amendment would prevent the government from taking such actions, but the injunction could be read to do so.”
Just hours earlier on Monday, Doughty, a Trump-appointed judge of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana denied the Justice Department’s request for a stay arguing that his preliminary injunction ruling isn’t as broad as it appears and only prohibits contacting social media companies for the purposes of suppressing free speech.
The Justice Department filing indicated that the DOJ would consider seeking emergency action by the Supreme Court if the 5th Circuit rejected its request and therefore asked for a 10 day stay, at minimum, for the highest court in the land to consider an application for a stay.
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, like 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 didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.