Federal court allows Texas to enforce new social media law

A federal appeals court has allowed Texas’ new social media law to take effect, lifting a judge’s block and escalating a legal battle over digital censorship.

A three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled in favor of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who had called for a federal judge’s injunction to stop the law.

The Texas law aims to eliminate digital censorship by instructing social media platforms with more than 50 million active users, such as Facebook and Twitter, not to discriminate against the views of Texans.

“My office just won another big win for BIG TECH,” Mr. Paxton tweeted through his office’s account. “HB20 in #Texas is back in effect. The Fifth Circuit made the right decision here and I look forward to continuing to defend the constitutionality of #HB20.”

The three-judge panel disagreed, but the court did not reveal how the judges voted or the reasons for their decisions.

The litigants who challenged the Texas law, the Computer and Communications Industry Association and NetChoice were unhappy with the outcome.

“This unexplained order violates the established First Amendment. There is no choice,” CCIA President Matt Schruers said in a statement. “We will take the necessary steps to ensure that the free market, not government fiat, determines what voice digital services do and don’t spread.”

Carl Szabo, NetChoice’s vice president and general counsel, called the Texas law “completely constitutionally rotten” and said in a statement that his team plans to immediately appeal the order.

The tech industry trade group had the upper hand ahead of Wednesday’s ruling.

The two tech industry trade groups challenged the law in September after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed it into law last fall. The CCIA and NetChoice won an early victory in December 2021, when U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman issued a preliminary injunction preventing the law from being enforced.

Texas appealed the federal judge’s blockade, and a federal appeals court heard oral arguments about the blockade earlier this week. Wednesday’s decision by a three-judge panel to side with Texas over the blocking law did not explicitly address the constitutionality of the social media law itself.

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