(The Hill) — The Supreme Court on Friday announced it will hear two cases stemming from controversial laws in Texas and Florida regulating social media platforms’ content moderation decisions.
The laws aim to prohibit social media companies from banning users based on political views, even if users violate platform policies, essentially limiting companies from being able to enforce their own policies.
The high court will consider whether the laws’ content moderation restrictions and their “individualized-explanation requirements” are compliant with the First Amendment.
Any outcome at the Supreme Court could have resounding implications for online speech after two lower courts, the 5th Circuit and 11th Circuit appeals courts, had conflicting opinions on blocking and upholding the two states’ similar laws.
The laws were challenged in court by two tech industry groups, the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) and NetChoice. They said the social media laws violate private companies’ First Amendment right to decide what speech to host.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decided to uphold a block on major provisions in Florida’s law, siding with the tech industry groups. The panel agreed that no matter the extent of technological advancement, the “basic principles of freedom of speech and the press” remain, including for private corporations.
But the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reached the opposite conclusion in Texas’ case. Judge Andrew Stephen Oldham, a Trump appointee, wrote in the panel’s opinion that the First Amendment doesn’t guarantee corporations the “unenumerated right to muzzle speech.”
In Florida’s petition to the Supreme Court to hear its case, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) said the 11th Circuit’s decision to block the state’s law “squarely conflicts” with the 5th Circuit’s ruling for Texas, which upheld the state’s similar law. The trade associations also appealed to the Supreme Court.
At least four of the nine justices had to agree to take up the cases, a decision that came with little surprise after several justices previously indicated interest.
Last May, the Supreme Court decided 5-4 to take emergency action, pausing the Texas law’s enforcement until the 5th Circuit could more fully consider the case. Justice Samuel Alito — writing for himself, Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Neil Gorsuch — said in a dissenting opinion that the case posed “novel legal questions” of “great importance that will plainly merit this Court’s review.”Justice Elena Kagan, one of the court’s liberals, did not join Alito’s opinion but indicated she agreed with the three conservative justices’ votes.
The justices’ request for the Biden administration to weigh in on the case also teased their interest in taking it up.
In August, Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar asked the Supreme Court to overturn the 5th Circuit’s decision to uphold the Texas law, suggesting the conflicting opinions warrant a Supreme Court review.
“Considering the two laws together would give the Court the fullest opportunity to address the relevant issues,” she wrote.
Zach Schonfeld contributed.