5th Circuit Panel Temporarily Pauses Order Blocking Government From Flagging Social Media Misinformation

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 14: U.S. President Joe Biden (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
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A panel of 5th Circuit judges granted the Biden administration’s request for an administrative stay of a widely panned lower court decision that blocked wide swaths of the government from flagging misinformation to the companies that operate social media sites. 

The stay will last “until further orders of the court.” The panel also expedited oral arguments, and punted the decision on whether to grant a stay pending appeal to the merits panel that will hear them. 

The lower court judge, Donald Trump appointee Judge Terry Doughty, had ruled that government officials flagging potentially dangerous social media posts — largely about COVID-19 vaccine conspiracy theories — was a violation of the First Amendment. 

He denied the government’s stay requests — saying that the injury to those being “censored” was far greater than the government’s — and the Justice Department immediately took its case to the 5th circuit. 

Using unusually harsh language, the DOJ wrote that Doughty’s ruling “reflects numerous legal errors” and that its scope is an “abuse of discretion.” It also asked that, at the very least, the relief be constrained to the named parties in the suit so as to not affect the “vast universe of government actions lacking any connection to plaintiffs.”

Doughty, a consistently anti-Biden administration judge, had referred to the administration’s attempt to restrict COVID-19 misinformation as “Orwellian” and “dystopian” in his original ruling. He rehashed some of those examples of government “censorship” in his denial of the stay request. 

His ruling is the latest example of right-wing judges taking advantage of nationwide relief to set government policy.

Read the order here:

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