A federal appeals court is allowing Texas’ new social media law to take effect, undoing a judge’s blockade and escalating the legal fight over digital censorship.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit issued a one-sentence ruling in favor of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who had appealed to prevent a federal judge’s injunction from stopping the law.
The Texas law aims to kill digital censorship by directing social media platforms with more than 50 million active users — such as Facebook and Twitter — to not discriminate against the viewpoint of Texans.
“My office just secured another BIG WIN against BIG TECH,” Mr. Paxton said on Twitter from his office’s account. “#Texas’s HB20 is back in effect. The 5th Circuit made the right call here, and I look forward to continuing to defend the constitutionality of #HB20.”
The three-judge panel was not unanimous, but the court did not reveal how the judges voted nor their reasoning for the decision.
The litigants challenging Texas’ law, Computer & Communications Industry Association and NetChoice, were not pleased with the outcome.
“This unexplained order contravenes established First Amendment law. No option is off the table,” said CCIA President Matt Schruers in a statement. “We will do what is necessary to ensure that the free market, not government fiat, decides what speech digital services do and do not disseminate.”
Carl Szabo, vice president and general counsel of NetChoice, called Texas’ law “constitutionally rotten through and through” and said in a statement that his group planned to appeal the order immediately.
The tech industry trade groups had the upper hand before Wednesday’s ruling.
After Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the law last fall, the two tech industry trade groups challenged it in September. CCIA and NetChoice scored an early victory in December 2021 when U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman granted a preliminary injunction blocking the law from being enforced.
Texas appealed the federal judge’s blockade and the federal appeals court heard oral arguments over the block earlier this week. The three-judge panel’s decision on Wednesday siding with Texas about the blockade of the law did not expressly address the constitutionality of the social media law itself.