A federal judge in Louisiana on Tuesday specifically barred President Joe Biden’s press secretary from colluding with corporate tech giants to censor Americans’ speech.
In a preliminary injunction handed down on July 4, Judge Terry Doughty, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, implemented restrictions on collusion between the Biden White House and social media companies. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was among the more than three dozen administration officials specifically named who are now prohibited from engaging in collaborative censorship.
Republican attorneys general in Louisiana and Missouri filed the lawsuit last year claiming White House efforts to get major online platforms to censor certain speech about Covid-19 vaccines, among other things, were unconstitutional.
Two years ago, Biden’s then-Press Secretary Jen Psaki bragged about the administration’s relationship with major platforms. She told reporters the Biden administration was often “flagging problematic posts for Facebook that spread disinformation.”
“We are in regular touch with these social media platforms and those engagements typically happen through members of our senior staff, but also members of our COVID-19 team,” Psaki said from the White House podium, and later doubled down on the corporate-government collusion.
Psaki’s immediate successor, Jean-Pierre, added in November that the White House was keeping a “close eye” on “misinformation” on Twitter.
“We have always been very clear that when it comes to social media platforms it is their responsibility to make sure that when it comes to misinformation, when it comes to the hate that we’re seeing, that they take action, that they continue to take action,” Jean-Pierre said. “Again, we’re all keeping a close eye on this.”
In Tuesday’s preliminary ruling, Judge Doughty cited the “substantial evidence” presented to the court of a “far-reaching and widespread censorship campaign” to warrant the injunction.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, a period perhaps best characterized by widespread doubt and uncertainty, the United States Government seems to have assumed a role similar to an Orwellian ‘Ministry of Truth,'” Doughty wrote.
“If the allegations made by plaintiffs are true, the present case arguably involves the most massive attack against free speech in United States’ history,” the Trump-appointed judge added. “In their attempts to suppress alleged disinformation, the Federal Government, and particularly the Defendants named here, are alleged to have blatantly ignored the First Amendment’s right to free speech.”
Jean-Pierre, along with dozens of administration officials, is now explicitly prohibited from colluding with social media companies “for the purpose of urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner the removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech posted on social-media platforms.”
With exceptions for posts involving content such as criminal activity or threats, the White House may no longer flag posts for censorship or pressure companies to suppress users’ free speech.
Several executive agencies are also banned from engaging in the same conduct, including the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Census Bureau, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, the Department of Justice, and the FBI.
Jean-Pierre was pressed in February by Fox News White House correspondent Jacqui Heinrich on previously labeling those who suggested the novel coronavirus came from a Chinese lab as “conspiracy theorists.”
“There was not so long ago a point where anyone asking the question of whether a lab leak was a credible theory that should be looked into — a lot of those people were derided as fringe, you know, conspiracy theorists,” Heinrich said at a White House press briefing. “So are there lessons learned? You know, looking back about how we discuss theories when we don’t have all of the answers.”
“The president is asking his team to do everything that they can to figure out where it originated because of what could potentially happen next because of the potential of having another pandemic,” Jean-Pierre responded, after insisting “there is no consensus” about the virus’ origins.
The question was presented after The Wall Street Journal reported on the Energy Department’s conclusion that the lab-leak theory was the most likely explanation for the novel coronavirus. The department’s findings are corroborated by investigations conducted by the FBI director and Republicans on the Senate Health Committee.