As Trump-appointed judges vie to see who can produce the most nakedly partisan rulings completely divorced from precedent and case law, a new contender has thrown his hat in the ring.
U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty on Tuesday barred Biden administration officials — everyone from Heath and Human Services to the Centers for Disease Control to the FBI — from flagging posts that spread misinformation to social media companies. Doughty ruled that such contact is a violation of the First Amendment. The companies include Facebook/Meta, Twitter, YouTube/Google, Instagram and many more.
The judgment bans the named officials from meeting with the companies, flagging worrying content, emailing or calling the companies about content, following up with the companies or even collaborating with groups like the Election Integrity Partnership to identify troublesome posts.
“Although this case is still relatively young, and at this stage the Court is only examining it in terms of Plaintiffs’ likelihood of success on the merits, the evidence produced thus far depicts an almost dystopian scenario,” Doughty writes. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, a period perhaps best characterized by widespread doubt and uncertainty, the United States Government seems to have assumed a role similar to an Orwellian ‘Ministry of Truth.'”
The case now goes through the familiar gauntlet of right-wing-friendly venues: the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, and, likely, the Supreme Court. Should Doughty’s ruling survive, it’d be a sea change in the interpretation of this area of law. His injunction, at least, will likely remain in place for months, given the conservative dominance of the 5th Circuit and the time it’ll take for the case to reach the Supreme Court.
Many anti-Biden administration litigants have recently filed lawsuits in the same pipeline — Trumpy district judge to 5th Circuit to Supreme Court — on everything from abortion to the Affordable Care Act.
The high court, though, has overturned Doughty before; he made the initial ruling banning the Biden administration’s vaccine requirements for health care workers at facilities that receive funding from Medicare and Medicaid, which the Court ultimately let stand.
Doughty tosses in a few exceptions to the contact ban, including on matters of national security and “criminal efforts to suppress voting, to provide illegal campaign contributions, of cyber-attacks against election infrastructure, or foreign attempts to influence elections.”
Doughty tipped his cards far earlier in the process, allowing the plaintiffs — a pair of red state attorneys general plus individuals including The Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft — to extract extensive discovery from administration officials like far-right archenemy Dr. Anthony Fauci, who’s said he wasn’t involved in online content moderation.
This newest ruling also dribbled out of the right-wing media vortex of conspiracy theories, where “government censorship” of conservatives’ social media activity is a constant complaint.
Fury about supposed “shadow banning,” stifling of content and throttling of follower counts is not relegated to right-wing cranks on message boards or those who host Fox News shows: Republican elected officials consistently echo the conspiracy theory, occasionally hauling in tech CEOs before their committees to answer shouted questions on the topic.
The Republican-majority House Judiciary Committee, among the censorship-obsessed and which has already subpoenaed the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, interrupted its anodyne Fourth of July posts to gleefully retweet news of the judge’s ruling, festooned with American flag emojis.
“HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY!” the committee celebrated.
Read the ruling and judgment here: