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Appeals Court Halts Order Blocking Government’s Censorship Collusion with Big Tech

A federal appeals court has temporarily halted a ruling from a lower court that prevented key members of the Biden administration from pressuring social media companies to censor Americans.

The Justice Department’s request for a temporary halt was granted by the three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, made up of Clinton-appointee Carl E. Stewart, Obama-appointee James E. Graves and Trump-appointee Andrew S. Oldham.

The halt means that, for now, Biden administration officials can resume contact with social media companies. They had been prohibited from doing so by an injunction granted to the plaintiffs of Missouri v. Biden by U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty of Louisiana at the start of this month.

Judge Doughty’s ruling stated that government officials could not contact social media platforms “for the purpose of urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner the removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech posted”

The injunction covered Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) director Jen Easterly, along with a number of federal agencies.

Government lawyers argued that the injunction may prevent the government from “engaging in a vast range of lawful and responsible conduct — including speaking on matters of public concern and working with social media companies on initiatives to prevent grave harm to the American people and our democratic processes.”

The halt is only temporary, lasting “until further orders of the court.” The government is appealing the decision from the Louisiana court. In addition to granting the halt, the three-judge panel also expedited the government’s appeal. If the government loses its appeal, or if the case goes to the higher court, the earlier ruling could be reinstated.

A closely-watched case, Missouri v. Biden has laid bare the extent of the federal government’s efforts to influence content moderation decisions taken by major tech companies. Disclosures revealed via the lawsuit have shown that administration officials event wanted tech companies to censor private messaging platforms like Facebook-owned WhatsApp.

The case is Missouri v. Biden, in the Western District of Louisiana, No. 3:22-cv-01213-TAD-KDM.

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