Is There Any Remedy When You’re Censored?

From The Wall Street Journal:

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.

A decision that state common-carrier laws can’t be used to stop federal censorship through the platforms would render such censorship all but irremediable. Damages are generally unavailable for past censorship, and injunctions are too slow and otherwise inadequate against future censorship—so a decision against an antidiscrimination rule would make it a trifecta against free speech.

This risk is especially startling because it’s only recently that Americans have needed a remedy against censorship. The government once couldn’t actually suppress speech; it could only punish the speaker, and for this it had to go to court. The government once had to go to court to charge a particular defendant with seditious libel or some other offense and prove its accusation. Now, the government can simply pressure or induce the dominant social-media platforms to suppress speech en masse. That approach doesn’t merely punish speakers; it snuffs out speech. And it places the onus of going to court on the censored individuals.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

1 thought on “Is There Any Remedy When You’re Censored?”

  1. Despite the difficulty of threading the needle, its point is valid that it needs to be threaded because the old solution go build your own site/app ran into the fact that Google/Apple are part of the suppressing forces and own the only mass app stores. Pressure on payment processors, banks, etc. and anti-advertising campaigns are also used to prevent being able to fund alternatives. The goal is not to suppress speech on one platform, but entirely. That is a problem that seriously needs a remedy. I don’t think it’s gonna affect my fiction soon, but it’s still extremely concerning.

Comments are closed.