A federal judge ruled Tuesday that the Biden administration likely violated the First Amendment by pressuring social media companies to remove unfavorable material over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, calling the efforts “Orwellian.” U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty in Louisiana issued a preliminary injunction barring numerous federal officials and agencies — including Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and all main Justice Department and FBI employees — from having any contact with social media firms for the purpose of discouraging or removing First Amendment-protected speech, Politico reports. The ruling from Doughty, an appointee of former President Trump, are the latest developments in a long-running lawsuit spearheaded by Republican-led states alleging that the administration pressured social media companies to remove posts containing purported misinformation about the coronavirus, election security and other issues.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, a period perhaps best characterized by widespread doubt and uncertainty, the United States Government seems to have assumed a role similar to an Orwellian ‘Ministry of Truth,’” Doughty wrote. The ruling appears to take effect immediately, but it isn’t a final decision on the suit and can be appealed by the Biden administration to the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The judge’s decision cites a wide range of topics that he says “all were suppressed” on social media at the urging of administration officials, including opposition to COVID vaccines, masking, lockdowns and the lab-leak theory; opposition to the validity of the 2020 election; opposition to President Biden’s policies; and statements claiming that the story surrounding a laptop belonging to Biden’s son Hunter Biden was true.