Paging Mr. Orwell, Please Call Your Office
Even if the high court decides to end President Biden’s Orwellian experiment in speech control ahead of the 2024 election, there’s no guarantee the Biden administration would obey.
President Biden’s scheme to stifle conservative speech online, derided by a federal judge as an Orwellian “Ministry of Truth,” is on life support. That’s after the latest ruling by a federal circuit. It means that the program’s fate may need to be resolved by the Supreme Court before the fairness of the 2024 election can be assured. Nothing in the Biden administration’s behavior to date suggests it would obey, or even acknowledge, a high court ruling.
“Federally coerced censorship” is how a panel of riders on the Fifth United States Appeals Circuit describes Mr. Biden’s pressure campaign on social media companies to block right-leaning content online in the name of fighting disinformation. These tactics had a “chilling” effect on the “First Amendment rights” of the officials and individuals who filed suit to halt the program, which, the circuit riders warn, continues to operate even now.
“The most massive assault on free speech in the nation’s history,” is how Columbia Law’s Philip Hamburger describes the censorship. Mr. Biden’s camarilla has been “monitoring billions of posts and suppressing millions,” he notes in the Wall Street Journal. The program “targets speech about electoral politics, medical and scientific debates, foreign policy and more.” Mr. Hamburger’s New Civil Liberties Alliance helped bring the case to court.
The circuit riders rejected the Biden administration’s attempt to get out from under a ruling by a district judge, Terry Doughty. He had halted the program on July 4. The judge called the Biden censorship “an almost dystopian scenario.” The Covid epidemic emboldened the federal government to embrace “a role similar to an Orwellian ‘Ministry of Truth,’” he wrote, meaning “disseminating propaganda to manipulate and control public perception.”
While Judge Doughty’s ruling was broader — barring a swathe of federal officials from so much as contacting the social media platforms about any content they publish, aside from crime or security threats, Mr. Hamburger’s group says that the circuit riders “upheld the most important portion” of the Doughty ruling. The result, they say, is to prohibit “officials from pressuring social media companies to suppress constitutionally protected speech.”
While the circuit riders did not reprise Judge Doughty’s invocation of Orwell, they did observe that “the government has engaged in a years-long pressure campaign” against social media platforms. It also suggested that the effort was “designed to ensure that the censorship aligned with the government’s preferred viewpoints.” That echoes Judge Doughty’s concern that “the government has used its power to silence the opposition.”
The circuit riders point to social media firms being carpeted by Administration officials for allowing online too much debate over, say, the efficacy of Covid vaccines. “The platforms responded with total compliance,” the riders regret. “Facebook asked what it could do to ‘get back to a good place’ with the White House.” YouTube and Google “told an official that they were ‘working on [it]’ and relayed the ‘steps they are currently taking’ to do better.”
The evidence adduced in Missouri v. Biden, the riders say, shows that, “faced with unrelenting pressure” from the “most powerful” leader in the world, social-media platforms “did, and would continue to, bend to the government’s will.” This censorship, the riders note, goes beyond Covid to include “allegations of election fraud and the Hunter Biden laptop story,” issues that are part of political debate in the leadup to the 2024 election.
Stanford Law’s Evelyn Douek tells the Post at Washington that the case is a “strong candidate for the Supreme Court to weigh in,” because courts disagree and “the issues are so important.” Even if the court takes the case, though, would Mr. Biden accept an adverse ruling? After the high court struck down his loan forgiveness plan, he defied the Nine with a workaround. With the connivance of the big social media firms, the “Ministry of Truth” may yet prosper.