Supreme Court temporarily blocks Texas social media law

A Texas law that would bar social media companies from taking action on hate speech and disinformation was temporarily blocked Tuesday in a rare 5-4 Supreme Court ruling. 

Justices John Roberts, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer ruled in favor of tech industry groups looking to block the law, with Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Elena Kagan dissenting. 

The decision is a win for tech groups pushing back on laws coming from Republican-controlled state legislatures that seek to put barriers on social media companies’ ability to moderate content. 

A case on the law itself may wind up back before the Supreme Court as it makes its way through challenges in lower courts. But Tuesday’s decision means the law — which critics have said could lead to a more dangerous internet — will remain blocked for now in Texas, reversing a decision from a court of appeals earlier this month.

In Alito’s dissenting opinion, he said he has not “formed a definitive view on the novel legal questions that arise from Texas’s decision to address the ‘changing social and economic’ conditions it perceives.” 

“But precisely because of that, I am not comfortable intervening at this point in the proceedings. While I can understand the Court’s apparent desire to delay enforcement of HB20 while the appeal is pending, the preliminary injunction entered by the District Court was itself a significant intrusion on state sovereignty, and Texas should not be required to seek preclearance from the federal courts before its laws go into effect,” he added. 

The law forbids social media companies with more than 50 million monthly users from banning users based on political views. 

It comes amid a push from Republicans to cast social media companies as censoring content with an anti-conservative bias, inflamed by platforms’ decision to suspend former President Trump in the wake of the attack at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. 

A similar law in Florida was blocked last week by a court of appeals that also sided with tech industry groups on the matter. 

The Texas law had similarly been blocked since Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed it into law in September up until a decision by a court of appeals earlier this month lifted the ban. 

Matt Schruers, president of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, which is one of two industry groups suing against the Texas law, said he is “encouraged” by the court ruling to block the law as it remains under consideration. 

“This ruling means that private American companies will have an opportunity to be heard in court before they are forced to disseminate vile, abusive or extremist content under this Texas law. We appreciate the Supreme Court ensuring First Amendment protections, including the right not to be compelled to speak, will be upheld during the legal challenge to Texas’s social media law,” he said. 

—Updated at 5:23 p.m.

Tags Amy Coney Barrett Brett Kavanaugh Clarence Thomas content moderation Elena Kagan John Roberts Neil Gorsuch Samuel Alito Social media law Sonia Sotomayor Stephen Breyer Supreme Court

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