Supreme Court to hear challenges to Texas and Florida laws that prohibit social media censorship over political views

 September 30, 2023

The Republican-led states of Florida and Texas in recent years passed laws to regulate social media platforms and how they moderate user-posted content with an aim toward preventing those platforms from censoring users over their political views and other beliefs, and those laws were immediately challenged as unconstitutional by the tech industry.

Following a split at the circuit court level on those two laws, the Supreme Court announced on Friday that it would take up both of those cases that involve free speech issues on both sides, according to The Washington Post.

That decision was revealed in an Order List released Friday that included 12 cases altogether that will be considered by the justices in the coming term that is set to begin in October.

Can states bar social media from censoring users?

The Florida case, known as NetChoice v. Moody, directly challenges the constitutionality and First Amendment compliance of the state's Stop Social Media Censorship Act, which bars social media companies from banning or improperly censoring political candidates and others over their views and beliefs.

The Texas case, known as NetChoice v. Paxton, similarly challenges the constitutionality of the Texas law, which prohibits social media platforms from censoring users over their views and allows individuals and the state to sue the companies if they believe they were unfairly censored or banned.

According to USA Today, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked most of Florida's law from taking effect last year while the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Texas law, creating a split that has compelled the Supreme Court to ultimately decide the matter.

Supreme Court previously blocked Texas law pending appeal

This will actually be the second time that the Texas case has reached the Supreme Court, as the 5th Circuit's ruling in favor of the state was subject to an emergency appeal in which the justices ruled 5-4 to temporarily block the law from taking effect while the litigation continues, according to the Post.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote a dissent to that decision that was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch -- liberal Justice Elena Kagen also dissented but did not join Alito's opinion -- and explained why the law should not have been blocked by the high court.

"Social media platforms have transformed the way people communicate with each other and obtain news," Alito said. "At issue is a groundbreaking Texas law that addresses the power of dominant social media corporations to shape public discussion of the important issues of the day."

"It is not at all obvious how our existing precedents, which predate the age of the internet, should apply to large social media companies," he added.

Biden admin has joined tech companies in opposition to state laws

According to SCOTUSblog, the tech companies, joined by the Biden administration in challenging the Texas and Florida laws, have argued that the laws violate the First Amendment rights of the social media platforms by way of compelled speech in that they would be forced to publish content they don't want to publish as well as by forcing them to explain and justify decisions to remove certain content or ban and censor users.

Oral arguments in the two cases will likely be heard early next year with the rulings released near the end of the term in June.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is still considering whether or not to take up a case out of Louisiana, which was upheld but narrowed by the 5th Circuit, in which a district judge ruled that the Biden administration violated the First Amendment by pressuring social media platforms to censor and silence viewpoints it disagreed with.

That case may be included in another Order List of cases picked up by the high court that is expected to be released next week at the start of the new term.

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
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