Courts & Litigation Cybersecurity & Tech

The Supreme Court Rules on Social Media First Amendment Cases

Julien Berman
Monday, July 1, 2024, 11:31 AM
The Court decided that laws regulating social media platforms required a more comprehensive analysis of the facial challenges under the First Amendment, sending the cases back to the lower courts for further review.

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On July 1, in a 9-0 decision, the Supreme Court vacated the judgments of the Fifth and Eleventh Circuits regarding laws enacted by Florida and Texas to regulate social media platforms. The Supreme Court remanded the cases for further proceedings, requiring a more comprehensive analysis of the facial challenges under the First Amendment.

Of the nine Justices, six emphasized the need to determine whether the laws’ applications to social media platforms substantially infringe on free speech rights of the companies. 

In the Court’s majority opinion, Justice Kagan wrote, “Today, we vacate both decisions for reasons separate from the First Amendment merits, because neither Court of Appeals properly considered the facial nature of NetChoice’s challenge.” However, she expressed the need to provide guidance to the lower courts on the proper First Amendment standard, expressing concern that one or both laws might “prevent[] exactly the kind of editorial judgments this Court has previously held to receive First Amendment protection.” Further, she suggested that laws cannot prevent “a platform from compiling the third-party speech it wants in the way it wants, and thus from offering the expressive product that most reflects its own views and priorities.”

Florida and Texas both passed laws seeking to prevent social media companies from censoring speech. The Texas law, H.B. 20, bars social media platforms with at least 50 million active users from blocking, removing, or demonetizing content based on the users’ views. The Florida law, S.B. 7072, prohibits social media companies from banning political candidates and journalistic enterprises. 

The two trade groups representing the social media platforms argued that these platforms are “speakers” protected by the First Amendment and that their decisions to allow and remove certain content constitute editorial discretion—a form of protected speech. The states argued that social media platforms are simply in the business of transmitting users’ speech and thus do not have First Amendment rights themselves.

The cases originated in the Northern District of Florida and the Western District of Texas, where both district courts granted preliminary injunctions blocking the respective statutes from taking effect. The Eleventh Circuit upheld the injunction of Florida’s law. The Fifth Circuit reversed the preliminary injunction of the Texas law. Subsequently, the Supreme Court consolidated both cases and agreed to review the decisions.

See Lawfare’s previous coverage analyzing the case.

You can find the ruling here or below.

Julien Berman is Lawfare's summer 2024 intern. He studies economics at Harvard University and writes op-eds for The Harvard Crimson.

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