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Supreme Court Reviews Landmark First Amendment Case

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is currently reviewing what could prove to be a landmark case centered around the First Amendment right to free speech. In 2021, Texas and Florida both passed laws that prohibit social media platforms from censoring and removing user posts. Since then, these laws have been the subject of legal scrutiny culminating in a review by the nation’s highest court. Regardless of which way the Supreme Court rules, it will have critical implications for the standards associated with the First Amendment. 

Advocates of censorship efforts argue that the removal of posts deemed “misinformation” or “hate speech” is necessary to protect the best interest of the public. Critics suggest that the federal government is overstepping its boundaries, with the Biden administration pressuring social media companies to enforce censorship where the federal government cannot.

The 5th Circuit Court sided with Texas in upholding the law. However, the Supreme Court has blocked its ruling while it considers the issue. Recently, the court overheard lengthy arguments from those who accuse the government of overreach; Supreme Court justices seemed weary of many points made by state representatives. In contrast with Texas and Florida lawmakers, Supreme Court justices stated concerns over the potential for the laws to infringe upon the right to free speech by social media corporations, many of whom took issue with the regulation of their platform’s content by state governments. 

The laws were passed by district courts, the first level in the federal court system. From there, social media platforms challenged the laws in the circuit court system, where appeals on rulings made by district courts can be made. The companies expressed concerns that the laws would violate their First Amendment right to editorial control over the content published on their platforms. The appeals court in the 11th Circuit ruled against the state of Florida, prohibiting it from enforcing the law, while the appeals court in the 5th Circuit ruled in favor of supporting the law in Texas. When two appeals courts reach opposite conclusions on the same legal matter, the case goes to the Supreme Court for a final ruling. 

Rulings by the Supreme Court require extensive debate, often taking months to conclude. The general sentiment among justices seemed to side with the Biden administration, suggesting requests by the government to censor certain information are lawful so long as it is not followed by threats or blackmail.

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