A federal appeals court on Friday blocked a judge’s order that prevented much of the Biden administration from speaking to social media about the content.
The case could have significant First Amendment implications and affect the behavior of social media companies and their cooperation with government agencies.
In its three-sentence order, a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit said the preliminary injunction issued this month by a Louisiana federal judge would be set aside “until further orders of the court.” The Court of Appeal also called for urgent oral arguments in the case.
In the lawsuit, Missouri, Louisiana and five individuals said President Biden’s campaign, his administration and outside groups pressured social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube to remove content they objected to. This content included conservative claims about the coronavirus pandemic and the 2020 presidential election, and a story about Hunter Biden, the president’s son.
Prosecutors scored a victory on July 4 when Judge Terry A. platforms.
“If the allegations made by the plaintiffs are true,” Judge Doughty wrote, “the present case arguably involves the largest attack against freedom of speech in United States history.”
Judge Doty, who was appointed by President Donald J. Trump in 2017, said White House and administration officials have used private communications and public statements to pressure tech giants to remove content related to the pandemic and Covid vaccines.
The judge’s initial injunction prevented several agencies — including the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security — from urging the platforms to remove “protected free speech.” The order said government agencies could still discuss content related to categories including criminal activity, threats to national security and foreign election interference.
Legal scholars said the broad nature of the injunction may make it difficult for the government to follow. The Ministry of Justice appealed the order the day after it was issued.
The case is proceeding amid a fierce bipartisan battle over online rhetoric. Republicans have for years accused Silicon Valley companies of disproportionately removing posts from the accounts of publishers and conservative figures. Democrats have said that technology platforms do not remove enough content, allowing false and violent messages to spread widely.
Republican lawmakers in Texas and Florida passed laws in 2021 that prevent social media sites from removing certain political content.
The tech industry has challenged those laws on First Amendment grounds, saying companies have the right to modify their platforms as they see fit. Many experts believe that these legal challenges will eventually reach the Supreme Court.