The Supreme Court casts doubt on Florida and Texas laws to regulate social media platforms

The Supreme Court on Monday kept on hold efforts by Texas and Florida to limit how Facebook, TikTok, X, YouTube and other social media platforms regulate content posted by their users in a ruling that strongly defended the platforms’ free speech rights.

Writing for the court, Justice Elena Kagan said the platforms, like newspapers, deserve protection from governments’ intrusion in determining what to include or exclude from their space. “The principle does not change because the curated compilation has gone from the physical to the virtual world,” Kagan wrote in an opinion signed by five justices. All nine justices agreed on the overall outcome.

The justices returned the cases to lower courts for further review in broad challenges from trade associations for the companies.

While the details vary, both laws aimed to address long-standing conservative complaints that the social media companies were liberal-leaning and censored users based on their viewpoints, especially on the political right. The cases are among several this term in which the justices are wrestling with standards for free speech in the digital age.

The Florida and Texas laws were signed by Republican governors in the months following decisions by Facebook and Twitter, now X, to cut then-President Donald Trump off over his posts related to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by his supporters.

Trade associations representing the companies sued in federal court, claiming that the laws violated the platforms’ speech rights. One federal appeals court struck down Florida’s statute, while another upheld the Texas law. But both were on hold pending the outcome at the Supreme Court.

While the cases are complicated, said First Amendment expert and Notre Dame Law School professor Richard W. Garnett, the justices were clear on two things:

“First, the First Amendment protects what we choose to say, but also what we choose not to say, support, or endorse. That is, the freedom of speech includes editorial judgment. This is true whether the speaker is a lone individual or a large media company,” he said. “Second, the government is not permitted to regulate speakers simply to produce what the government thinks would be a better, or more diverse, marketplace of ideas. What’s on offer in that marketplace is, in the end, up to us.”


Republished with permission from The Associated Press.

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