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Biden administration asks Supreme Court to hear cases on state social media laws


By Brian Fung, CNN

Washington, DC (CNN) — The Biden administration urged the Supreme Court on Monday to take up multiple cases involving state laws that restrict social media companies’ moderation of their own platforms, arguing the laws violate the First Amendment rights of companies such as Meta and Twitter.

The US government’s brief adds pressure on the court to rule on whether states can force tech platforms to host content they would otherwise remove under their terms of service.

Should the court agree to hear the cases involving laws passed by Texas and Florida, the outcome could reshape what Americans nationwide can see on digital social platforms.

Monday’s filing comes after the Supreme Court in January had asked the US Solicitor General to weigh in on the matter, postponing a decision on whether the cases would be heard.

The state laws in question allow social media users to sue tech companies for alleged political censorship, including suspensions, bans and other penalties a user might experience as a result of violating a platform’s terms. They also require tech platforms to explain their individualized content moderation decisions to users.

Viewed as a bellwether for internet speech and private rights in the face of government power, the cases take place against the backdrop of conservative claims that major social media platforms have a political agenda to discriminate against right-wing users by stifling their speech.

Tech industry trade associations challenging the laws have argued that they are unconstitutional because they force private companies to “speak,” violating a longstanding First Amendment principle against government-compelled speech.

Two federal appeals courts reached different conclusions about whether the laws are constitutional. The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit had sided with Texas, while the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals had issued an injunction blocking Florida’s law from taking effect.

That divergence, known as a circuit split, is further reason for the Supreme Court to issue the final say, the Biden administration said, calling on the court to uphold the Eleventh Circuit’s view.

“When a social-media platform selects, edits, and arranges third-party speech for presentation to the public, it engages in activity protected by the First Amendment,” the US government’s brief said. “That activity, and the platforms’ business practices more generally, are not immune from regulation. But here, the States have not articulated interests that justify the burdens imposed by the content-moderation restrictions under any potentially applicable form of First Amendment scrutiny.”

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