Texas Anti-Censorship Law Enjoined By Federal Court

In Austin, a federal court issued a preliminary injunction last Wednesday blocking a new Texas law designed to stop social media giants from censoring individuals based on political viewpoints. The law had been signed by Republican Governor Greg Abbott on September 9 and was scheduled to take effect last Thursday.

The law applies to social media companies with 50 million or more users per month and restricts them from banning users because of their political statements. The law also requires disclosures from covered companies regarding their compliance with Texas law and includes consumer protection provisions. It requires covered companies to provide users with a complaint and appeals process regarding removed content.

The ruling blocking the law was written by U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman, who was appointed to the court in 2014 by Barack Obama. Pitman stated that the law unreasonably restricts the covered social media outlets’ First Amendment right to manage the content they publish on their platforms.

Pitman stated that if “disclosing” and “publishing” information is not speech as defined in the First Amendment, “it is hard to imagine what does fall within that category.” He cites cases decided by the Supreme Court that upheld the right of companies to “exercise editorial control” over the content they publish.

The lawsuit was filed by NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association, alleging that they represented the interests of Google and Twitter regarding the applicability of the new law.

In their request for an injunction, the plaintiff companies argued that they are protected under Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act. They specifically alleged that “under Section 230(e)(3),” the Texas state law is preempted to the extent it restricts “good faith editorial discretion.” Typically, when a state law conflicts with an adequately enacted federal law, the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause requires that the federal law be given priority.

Steve DelBianco, president of NetChoice, declared the court’s ruling to be a “victory for free speech.”

Texas officials announced plans to continue litigation to defend the law, stating that social media giants should be considered “common carriers” like phone and cable television providers who cannot discriminate against customers under federal law.