A federal appeals court allowed a Texas law prohibiting large social media platforms from banning users based on political views to go into effect while the state appeals a lower court order that had blocked it.
The Circuit Court of Appeals panel did not explain its reasoning for granting the state s request for a stay of a December order by U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman in Austin, Texas, who had found that social media companies 1 st Amendment rights would be harmed by allowing the law to take effect.
The order included a footnote that the three-judge panel, comprised of Circuit Judges Edith Jones, Leslie Southwick and Andrew Oldham, was not unanimous, though it did not say how it was divided. The judges were appointed by former Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Donald Trump.
A lawyer for plaintiffs challenging the law - Internet lobbying groups NetChoice and the Computer Communications Industry Association CCIA whose members include Twitter, Facebook and Google - did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton did not do anything to defend the law.
The groups lawsuit challenges the law, signed by Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott in September, forbidding social media companies with more than 50 million active users per month from banning members based on their political views and requiring them to publicly disclose how they moderate content.
Abbott said that the law was in response to a dangerous movement by social media companies to silence conservative viewpoints and ideas. NetChoice and CCIA said in their lawsuits that the law violated their right to free speech under the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by barring them from exercising editorial discretion over their private platforms.
Pitman agreed, rejecting the state's argument that social media companies were passive conduits for third parties, like cable companies, and finding instead that they were entitled to the protections similar to those enjoyed by newspapers.
Social media companies are seen as censorship of their political views, including the removal of Trump from major platforms, according to conservatives. Billionaire Tesla owner Elon Musk has cited his opposition to censorship as a reason for buying Twitter and said he would reinstate Trump.
Florida also passed a law preventing large social media companies from banning posts by or about political candidates, which was struck down by a district court. The 11th Circuit heard about the state appeal last month.