The Supreme Court has temporarily halted a lower court ruling that prohibited White House officials from communicating with social media companies. The temporary stay, from Justice Samuel Alito, is the latest twist in a controversial attempt by two states to challenge content moderation policies at social media platforms.
The case stems from a lawsuit, brought by the attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana, that claimed federal officials overreached in their dealings with social media companies — namely Meta, Google and Twitter — as they shaped moderation policies to handle election and COVID-19 misinformation.
A lower court had previously issued an injunction that barred White House and other federal officials from communicating with social media companies. An Appeals Court decision last week eased many of the initial restrictions, but left in place a provision that banned the surgeon general, CDC and White House officials from “pressuring” social media companies into making decisions. That order, as CNN reports, was set to take effect September 18.
That ruling is now on hold, thanks to Alito’s temporary stay, as the two sides continue to argue the case. As Bloomberg points out, the stay will be in effect until September 22, though it could be extended.
In a filing ahead of the stay, the Solicitor General argued that “the injunction would impose grave harms on the government and the public” and that that government officials had committed no wrongdoing in their interactions with social media companies. “Rather than any pattern of coercive threats backed by sanctions, the record reflects a back-and-forth in which the government and platforms often shared goals and worked together, sometimes disagreed, and occasionally became frustrated with one another, as all parties articulated and pursued their own goals and interests during an unprecedented pandemic.”
While the current hold from Alito is another temporary measure, the case seems to be headed for a longer legal battle. The Justice Department is now laying the groundwork for a Supreme Court appeal, which could drag the case out even more.