Supreme Court Stays Texas Social Media Law, for Now

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The Supreme Court has blocked, for now, a Texas law that computer companies strongly oppose.

Justices Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented, saying they would have voted to allow the law to be enforced while the underlying challenge to the law is being adjudicated in a district court.

The law, which passed a Republican-controlled legislature last year, “prohibits an interactive computer service from censoring a user, a user’s expression, or a user's ability to receive the expression of another person based on … the viewpoint of the user or another person.” It also requires large social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to disclose how they manage content, to publish an acceptable use policy that users can find telling them what content is acceptable, to publish quarterly transparency reports, and to have a complaint system in place.

NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) filed an emergency petition with the High Court to prevent the enforcement of the law, which they say prevents online platforms from exercising editorial discretion over content and irreversibly tarnishing their businesses.

That was after a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a split 2-1 decision, reversed a lower court opinion and lifted a preliminary injunction against the law.

Computer companies called it a victory for free speech, but pointed out there is more work to be done. "While today’s victory is welcome news, we’re only halfway there  — our case will soon return to the district court, where we’ll proceed to arguments on the merits," NetChoice said in a statement. “And as this case proceeds, we await a ruling from the 11th Circuit in our parallel case against the State of Florida.”

“Texas’s HB 20 is a constitutional trainwreck — or, as the district court put it, an example of ‘burning the house to roast the pig,’ ” said NetChoice counsel Chris Marchese. “We are relieved that the First Amendment, open internet, and the users who rely on it remain protected from Texas’s unconstitutional overreach. Despite Texas’s best efforts to run roughshod over the First Amendment, it came up short in the Supreme Court,” Marchese said. “HB 20 will once again be enjoined and the case will proceed in the lower courts.”

“We are encouraged that this attack on First Amendment rights has been halted until a court can fully evaluate the repercussions of Texas’s ill-conceived statute,” CCIA president Matt Schruers said. “This ruling means that private American companies will have an opportunity to be heard in court before they are forced to disseminate vile, abusive or extremist content under this Texas law. We appreciate the Supreme Court ensuring First Amendment protections, including the right not to be compelled to speak, will be upheld during the legal challenge to Texas’s social media law.” ■

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.