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‘Vague’ injunction on social media should be stayed, Justice Dept. says

The Biden administration asked a federal judge to stay his sweeping July 4 injunction barring many government interactions with social media companies

(Dado Ruvic/Reuters)
2 min

The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday asked a federal judge to stay his sweeping July 4 injunction barring many government interactions with social media companies on free-speech grounds, arguing that it was vague, confusing and likely to be overturned on appeal.

“The Court’s July 4 preliminary injunction is both sweeping in scope and vague in its terms,” lawyers led by Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton wrote in a filing before U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty in Louisiana, citing rules that require the document to make clear “exactly what conduct is proscribed.”

Doughty’s 155-page opinion and seven-page injunction came in a case brought by the attorneys general of Louisiana and Missouri, who accused multiple federal agencies of violating the First Amendment right to free speech by pushing Facebook, Twitter and other companies to delete or limit the spread of posts that questioned coronavirus vaccines or made claims about voting fraud.

Doughty ruled that the states would probably succeed at trial and directed federal officials to stop notifying the companies and outside researchers of problematic content. He also made numerous exceptions, including for alerting the companies to crime, national security threats and attempts at voter suppression.

Judge blocks U.S. officials from tech contacts in First Amendment case

The government team asked for a stay to be granted by July 10 until the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit rules on the Justice Department’s planned appeal of the injunction, or else that Doughty stay the order for a week to allow time for a faster emergency appeal.

The six-page motion argues that parts of the order contradict each other, such as a prohibition on some officials speaking publicly about false social media posts conflicting with a provision that nothing should stop officials from exercising their own right to free speech.

It also said that the government would suffer irreparable harm while the injunction remained in effect, while the plaintiffs were citing old conduct and would not.

“The potential breadth of the entities and employees covered by the injunction combined with the injunction’s sweeping substantive scope will chill a wide range of lawful government conduct relating to Defendants’ law enforcement responsibilities, obligations to protect the national security, and prerogative to speak on matters of public concern,” the Justice Department wrote.

On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that the State Department had canceled a regular meeting with Facebook parent Meta to discuss foreign influence campaigns that both sides track. The State Department confirmed the cancellation Thursday.