Court revives Texas social media law against banning users for views
- Law forbids large social media companies from banning users for political viewpoints
- Florida is appealing ruling against similar law
(Reuters) - A federal appeals court on Wednesday allowed a Texas law prohibiting large social media platforms from banning users based on their political views to go into effect while the state appeals a lower court order that had blocked it.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel did not explain its reasoning for granting the state's request for a stay of a December order by U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman in Austin, Texas, who had found that social media companies' 1st Amendment rights would be harmed by allowing the law to take effect.
The order included a footnote that the three-judge panel, comprised of Circuit Judges Edith Jones, Leslie Southwick and Andrew Oldham, was not unanimous, though it did not say how it was divided. The judges were appointed by former Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Donald Trump, respectively.
A lawyer for the plaintiffs challenging the law — internet lobbying groups NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), whose members include Twitter, Facebook and Google — did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Nor did the office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, which is defending the law.
The groups' lawsuit challenges a law, signed by Texas' Republican Governor Greg Abbott in September, forbidding social media companies with more than 50 million active users per month from banning members based on their political views and requiring them to publicly disclose how they moderate content.
Abbott at the time said the law was in response to "a dangerous movement by social media companies to silence conservative viewpoints and ideas."
NetChoice and CCIA said in their lawsuit that the law violated their right to free speech under the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by barring them from exercising editorial discretion over their private platforms.
Pitman agreed, rejecting the state's argument that social media companies were passive conduits for third parties like cable companies, and finding instead that they were entitled to the protections similar to those enjoyed by newspapers.
Conservatives have widely criticized social media companies for what they see as censorship of their political views, including the removal of Trump from major platforms. Billionaire Tesla owner Elon Musk has cited his own opposition to censorship as a reason for buying Twitter and has said he would reinstate Trump.
Florida also passed a law preventing large social media companies from banning posts by or about political candidates, which was struck down by a district court. The 11th Circuit heard that state's appeal last month.
The case is NetChoice LLC v. Paxton, 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 21-51178.
For plaintiffs: Scott Keller of Lehotsky Keller
For the state: Assistant Solicitor General Ryan Baasch
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