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Supreme Court To Eye Online Free Speech, First Amendment Cases

The Supreme Court is set to address important questions surrounding online speech and the First Amendment in its upcoming term.
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The Supreme Court is set to address important questions surrounding online speech and the First Amendment in its upcoming term.

The Court has already agreed to review cases involving government officials blocking constituents on social media platforms and whether such actions constitute official capacity. Additional cases are pending that raise key questions about how the First Amendment applies to online platforms.

One case, Garnier v. O’Connor-Ratcliff, involves California school board members who blocked parents on social media after critical comments.

The Ninth Circuit ruled that this violated the First Amendment because officials acted under color of state law.

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Another case, Lindke v. Freed, concerns a Michigan City Manager’s decision to block a constituent who criticized his COVID-19 handling. The Sixth Circuit determined the official was acting in his personal capacity, and there was no state action.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas had previously highlighted the need for the Court to address issues related to online speech and digital platforms.

“Today’s digital platforms provide avenues for historically unprecedented amounts of speech, including speech by government actors,” Thomas wrote at the time. “We will soon have no choice but to address how our legal doctrines apply to highly concentrated, privately owned information infrastructure such as digital platforms.

Other pending cases question state government influence on platforms’ content moderation and agency-led efforts to address “misinformation” online.

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These cases include challenges to laws passed in Florida and Texas to prevent Big Tech platforms from censoring based on viewpoint.

The Supreme Court’s decisions in these cases could significantly impact the landscape of online speech and First Amendment protections in the digital age.

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