Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Is There Any Remedy When You’re Censored? - WSJ

It’s said that for every right there’s a remedy. Three cases before the Supreme Court will test whether that’s true for the freedom of speech.

In National Rifle Association v. Vullo, a New York state official took aim at gun advocacy by threatening regulatory hassle for bankers and insurers that continued to do business with the NRA. Recognizing the threat, they dumped the organization. Now that the official, Maria Vullo, is being sued, she claims that under the qualified-immunity doctrine, she can’t be ordered to pay damages.

Qualified immunity broadly protects officials from liability, so most plaintiffs who are censored don’t bother seeking damages for past suppression. Instead they seek injunctions against future censorship. In Murthy v. Missouri, however, the Biden administration is trying to foreclose that remedy, too.

Although the government pressured social-media platforms to censor users, it now claims the plaintiffs shouldn’t get an injunction because they can’t show that they are likely to be censored again. They also want injunctive protection for their ability to read other authors, but again the government objects. More seriously, even if the court sustains the injunction in Murthy, it won’t be sufficient, as it doesn’t bar the full breadth of the current censorship. Injunctions will always be inadequate in the face of secret suppression. In this case, because the government kept its role secret, it has taken more than half a decade to get an injunction against the censorship.

Americans are thus in a strange predicament. Under Supreme Court doctrine, they can’t be confident of getting either damages for past censorship or a prompt and effective injunction against future censorship. And it gets worse. In NetChoice v. Paxton, in which the justices hear oral arguments on Monday, there’s a danger the court will strike down Texas’ free-speech statute. That law treats the dominant social-media platforms as common carriers and bars them from discriminating on the basis of viewpoint.

This sort of antidiscrimination law is the only effective remedy for the current regime of government censorship. It’s unlikely that federal law will adequately limit federal censorship, so state law is structurally essential to stop it. And only when common-carrier antidiscrimination rules are applied to the platforms will the federal government be fully precluded from imposing censorship through them.

via www.wsj.com

Phillip Hamburger.


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