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    Susan Shelley: Supreme Court sends mixed signals on social media censorship
    • October 25, 2023

    Without exaggeration, we are heartbeats away from losing freedom in this country, and as President Ronald Reagan said, if we lose it here there is nowhere else to go.

    Freedom of speech, the most fundamental of freedoms, has a very simple meaning. It means the government may not infringe your freedom to speak, to express your views and ideas, and to be heard in public.

    Laws prohibiting specific types of speech such as libel and incitement to violence must be narrowly tailored. A broad, government-directed censorship of speech to prevent unspecified potential harm is what the First Amendment makes impossible. If it doesn’t, it might as well be in a landfill.

    Garbage trucks are standing by. A majority of the justices on the U.S. Supreme Court have just granted the government’s request to “stay” (undo) a lower court’s order requiring the government to immediately stop the conduct which prompted the lawsuit previously called Missouri v. Biden and now known as Murthy v. Missouri.

    Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, disagreed with the majority’s decision. They do not think the court should have allowed the government to continue “what two lower courts found to be a ‘coordinated campaign’ by high-level federal officials to suppress the expression of disfavored views on important public issues.”

    The Supreme Court majority did this “without undertaking a full review of the record and without any explanation,” Alito wrote.

    That record includes 82 pages of “findings of fact” by the U.S. District Court. The injunction ordered by Judge Terry Doughty found that the plaintiffs were likely to prevail and that they would suffer irreparable harm if the government was allowed to continue what the Court of Appeals agreed was “unrelenting pressure” from certain government officials that likely “had the intended result of suppressing mil­lions of protected free speech postings by American citi­zens.”

    While the injunction allowed the government to take actions in narrow categories of national security and criminal investigation, it prohibited the White House and multiple government departments and agencies from “any manner” of “urging, encouraging, pressuring or inducing” social media companies to engage in the “removal, deletion, suppression or reduction of content containing protected free speech.” The judge said that means no flagging, no forwarding, and no pressuring the companies to “change their guidelines.” Further, no meetings, calls, letters, or texts, and no “following up” or “requesting content reports” to document “actions taken to remove, delete, suppress or reduce content containing protected free speech.”

    If that sounds like it couldn’t possibly be real in the United States of America and must be some fevered nightmare of paranoid “extremists on the right,” consider this: the Biden administration immediately appealed the injunction, insisting that it must continue all these practices for the good of the nation while the case proceeds to trial.

    It is this appeal of the district court’s order that ultimately went to the U.S. Supreme Court and has now found favor with a majority of justices on the nation’s highest court. This is the branch of the United States government that is ultimately responsible for safeguarding your freedom by telling the rest of the government that the Constitution means there are some things the government simply cannot do to people.

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    Without that, you might as well be in California. Courts here routinely ignore the plain language of the state constitution and make up new rules to allow local governments to disregard plain-language constitutional provisions. As one example, Proposition 13 required local taxes to receive a two-thirds vote of the electorate, but courts have carved costly loopholes.

    For now, the U.S. Supreme Court will allow the government to continue its coercive censorship-by-proxy. However, the justices agreed to consider the merits of the case and issue a decision, likely by next June.

    If the justices rule for the government and against the people who were censored and deplatformed, the loss of freedom of speech will only accelerate in years to come. Governments don’t ever give up their coercive powers voluntarily.

    Be alarmed that a majority of the justices presently on the court thought it was okay for these coercive activities to continue, even temporarily. Pray for the health of the ones who didn’t.

    Write [email protected] and follow her on X @ Susan_Shelley

    ​ Orange County Register