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  /  News   /  Supreme Court punts on Texas, Florida social media laws

Supreme Court punts on Texas, Florida social media laws

The Supreme Court on Monday wiped lower court rulings regarding two state laws aimed at barring social media companies from banning users based on their political views, kicking the major First Amendment challenge down the road.

For the majority, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that lower courts addressing the matter wrongly focused on the state challengers’ contention that the laws applied only to “the curated feeds offered by the largest and most paradigmatic social-media platforms.” During arguments, platforms such as Gmail and Etsy were raised as having the potential to be caught in the crossfire of the laws.

“Today, we vacate both decisions for reasons separate from the First Amendment merits, because neither Court of Appeals properly considered the facial nature of NetChoice’s challenge,” Kagan wrote. 

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The Texas and Florida laws stood to weaken companies’ ability to enforce their own rules and transform free speech online. No justices dissented, though Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito wrote concurring opinions. The decision leaves intact lower court injunctions blocking the laws from going into effect.

The two laws were passed in 2021 amid Republican backlash over how social media companies enforced their policies, leading to bans and suspensions of prominent conservative figures for posting content that violated the platforms’ policies.

Though the laws are very similar, they aren’t identical. The Florida law specifically points to political candidates as entities that can’t be deplatformed, while in Texas, the law stops platforms from removing content based on users’ “viewpoints.”

Tech industry groups NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association challenged the laws as a violation of the private social media companies’ First Amendment rights, arguing that governments can’t dictate how they weigh which speech to host.  

The need for Supreme Court review grew more dire when federal appeals courts reached opposite conclusions on the matter. A panel of U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit judges sided the tech groups, upholding a block on major provisions of the Florida law, while the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit aligned with Texas, saying the First Amendment doesn’t provide corporations an “unenumerated right to muzzle speech.”

The Biden administration weighed in, too, signaling support for the tech groups and urging the high court to overturn the 5th Circuit decision.