The most extensive and nefarious censorship effort in American history was recently uncovered — and halted — breathing new life into free speech protections in our day.
A restraining order granted in Missouri v. Biden on July 4, 2023, was upheld by the 5th Circuit in September. The case may be escalated swiftly to the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision dealt a blow to the unprecedented, government-sponsored censorship effort the Biden administration carried out for the past three years in coordination with numerous federal agencies.
This malign effort to stamp out speech went far beyond Joe Biden and his press secretary. At least ten departments of government and named bad actors from these departments were involved in bullying and intimidation of the media. The plaintiffs — the State of Missouri and Louisiana, along with other affected and censored private parties — alleged that the defendants — Joe Biden, his press secretary, the Surgeon General, the Department of Justice, the FBI, Housing and Urban Development, and others organized under the Biden administration — through public pressure campaigns, private meetings and other forms of direct communication censored what was regarded by them as “disinformation,” “misinformation” and “malinformation.” Worse, they colluded with and/or coerced social media platforms to suppress disfavored speakers, viewpoints and content on social media platforms throughout the entire world.
“Federal agencies secretly sent hundreds, perhaps thousands, of intimidating and coercive emails to companies like Twitter (now called ‘X’), Facebook and others.”
Numerous federal agencies secretly sent hundreds, perhaps thousands, of intimidating and coercive emails to companies like Twitter (now called “X”), Facebook and others. The restraining order quotes these emails, exposing them as threats to penalize social media platforms, which didn’t do the government’s bidding.
For instance, a meme about Joe Biden’s granddaughter was removed from social media just because the administration was offended by it and ordered it to be censored.
Plaintiffs also alleged that the suppression constituted government action and that it was a violation of the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
It is hard to believe there was such an orchestrated, top-down suppression of free speech in such flagrant violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in our day. While the censorship alleged in this case almost exclusively targeted conservative speech, the harm went far beyond conservatives. Any ideologue in power could conceivably try to engage in illegal government overreach, if it were allowed to stand. Our forefathers protected us with the separation of powers clause so that what happens in other, less-free countries will not happen here. The right to free speech does not belong to any political party and does not favor any political ideology. It is the purpose of the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to preserve an uninhibited marketplace of ideas in which truth will ultimately prevail.
The lawyers for the Plaintiff on this case are to be remembered for their courage in standing up to a complex autocracy of bullies that developed and gained power right here in the U.S.A. Judge Terry A. Doughty called out these scoundrels for having their hands in the cookie jar. It is astonishing and more than a little disturbing to read the emails between government bullies and cooperative media enterprises colluding in this censorship effort — and I encourage you to find those emails online and read them for yourself. It can be shocking.
Doughty concluded his restraining order by quoting President Harry Truman: “Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one place to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.”
In this judicial act, upheld by a higher court and certainly heading to the highest, people committed to the Constitution and its amendments stood in the way of a government bent on censoring any and all speech it disfavored — a truly unAmerican idea.
Retired attorney George Nicoletti was admitted to the California State Bar and Federal Bar for the Central District of California in 1969. He served as Constitutional Law Professor at Glendale College of Law for 6 years and practiced law in Thousand Oaks starting in 1972. He was admitted to the U.S. District Court in Tucson, Arizona, in 1994.