On July 4, 1776 our founding fathers shot down the British government’s attempt to rob them of their freedoms. On July 4, 2023 a federal judge in Louisiana shot down what was perhaps the government’s most dangerous power grab since King George tried to destroy the rights of free Americans.
When Elon Musk took over Twitter, he allowed journalists to break a series of reports called “The Twitter Files” that confirmed what most thinking Americans already knew: social media companies had been actively discriminating against conservatives.
But the Twitter Files revealed something more sinister than that. Many times, social media companies suppressed speech at the behest of the federal government.
It would be morally wrong – but perhaps not illegal – if the social-media companies, which are staffed with west-coast hippies who are out of touch with most Americans, were the ones suppressing the speech. Not everything that is wrong or stupid is illegal.
But it is another matter when the government uses these companies as its puppets to do its bidding. The government cannot simply wash its hands of the matter and pass the blame to others. The Free Speech Clause forbids the government from suppressing speech, regardless of whether it does so directly or uses another to accomplish its bidding.
I was cynical when the news first broke. After a while, I feared that the government would get away with what it did. Fortunately, I was wrong.
A group of states led by Missouri sued in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, arguing that the federal government violated the Free Speech Clause in its suppression efforts. The states pulled no punches. They discussed extensively how the government threatened social media companies and coerced them into suppressing disfavored information about COVID-19 and the elections.
For instance, it turns out that the FBI knew that the Hunter Biden laptop story was not Russian disinformation, but they lied to social media companies anyway, telling them it was Russian interference with the election. After the 2020 election, polls indicated that enough Biden voters would have changed their votes if they had known about the story. It’s likely the outcome of the election would also have changed.
There is no way that the free men of America would have taken this lying down in 1776. Fortunately, there were enough free men left in 2023 America who would not take it lying down, either.
On July 4, the judge agreed with the states. He found significant evidence that the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and other federal agencies manipulated and coerced social media companies to do their bidding. Pulling no punches, the judge likened this scenario to George Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth” in 1984. He also found that, after the pandemic ended, the government kept pressuring social media to suppress conservative voices on topics like abortion, gas prices, parody speech, gender, and foreign policy. Therefore, the judge enjoined the government from pressuring social-media companies like this any further.
The Biden administration has appealed, but I believe its immediate chances of success are slim. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is the most conservative appellate court in the country and will not be sympathetic to the Biden administration. My guess is that they will lose the immediate appeal but will ask the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay. If so, I suspect that whether they succeed will come down to how Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Kavanaugh, and Justice Barrett feel on that given day.
But even if they stay the injunction, that does not mean the case is over. On the contrary, as they did in the student loan case, those justices might allow the government to proceed temporarily but rule for the right side in the end.
One of the bulwarks of American freedom is the notion that the civil government has no jurisdiction over the heart or mind. “Almighty God hath created the mind free,” Thomas Jefferson famously wrote. Similarly, James Madison noted that “the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men.”
This jurisdictional barrier is the cornerstone of religious freedom, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. There is perhaps nothing more illegal in America than mind control, which is what the government sought to impose by coercing social media into pushing its propaganda and converting it into its own Ministry of Truth.
Thanks be to God that the judge gave the government the hard smackdown it had coming. Let us pray that his decision is upheld on appeal.
Matt Clark is the President of the Alabama Center for Law and Liberty, a conservative nonprofit law firm that fights for limited government, free markets, and strong families in the courts. His column appears every Friday in 1819 News. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com.
Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.