Judge tosses Gabbard lawsuit against Google
A federal judge on Wednesday tossed Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard’s lawsuit against Google, dismissing the Hawaii congresswoman’s allegations that the tech giant censored her free speech rights by briefly suspending her presidential campaign ads.
Judge Stephen Wilson shot down Gabbard’s key arguments, most prominently affirming that Google is not the government and therefore can’t be held liable for violating her First Amendment rights.
The Gabbard campaign’s “essential allegation is that Google violated [her campaign’s] First Amendment rights by temporarily suspending its verified political advertising account for several hours shortly after a Democratic primary debate,” Wilson wrote in a filing on Tuesday.
He added that her claim “runs headfirst into two insurmountable barriers — the First Amendment and Supreme Court precedent,” quoting a recent decision that affirmed Google is legally allowed to censor any content on its services, including YouTube.
Gabbard, the long-shot presidential candidate known for bucking her own party, sued Google in July in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, alleging the tech behemoth censored her presidential campaign when it suspended the advertising account for several hours after a Democratic debate. Google refuted her claims, chalking up the brief suspension to a technical malfunction.
Gabbard’s lawsuit marked the first time a presidential contender has sued a large technology company over such claims.
The lawsuit reflected a narrative typically espoused by Republicans, many of whom have spent years claiming that the top tech companies routinely censor their perspectives. President Trump has long accused the companies of discriminating against him and other GOP figures.
Few Democrats have gotten behind the charges, mostly passing them off as a conservative talking point and pointing out there is little evidence beyond individual anecdotes to substantiate the claims.
Wilson on Wednesday offered a sweeping decision that brushed aside any arguments that equate Google to a state actor.
“Google is not now, nor (to the Court’s knowledge) has it ever been, an arm of the United States government,” Wilson wrote.
“What [Gabbard’s campaign] fails to establish is how Google’s regulation of its own platform is in any way equivalent to a governmental regulation of an election,” Wilson wrote. Gabbard’s campaign had tried to argue that Google should be bound by the First Amendment because it operates in ways similar to a government entity.
“Google does not hold primaries, it does not select candidates, and it does not prevent anyone from running for office or voting in elections,” Wilson wrote. “To the extent Google ‘regulates’ anything, it regulates its own private speech and platform.”
The decision comes on the heels of a similar opinion issued in California earlier this week that found Google’s YouTube is allowed to take down any content on its popular platform.
Gabbard’s campaign did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment.