Opinion: A First Amendment Fizzle at the U.S. Supreme Court

A tree blooms outside of the Supreme Court on Tuesday, March 19, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

A tree blooms outside of the Supreme Court on Tuesday, March 19, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

There was a big buildup in GOP circles about a case before the U.S. Supreme Court this week which claimed the Biden Administration had wrongly pressured social media giants to take down posts about the Coronavirus and election misinformation.

Republicans like U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., labeled it ‘the most consequential free speech case in U.S. history,’ after lower courts had called federal actions a ‘massive attack against free speech.’

But this First Amendment challenge landed with a thud at the high court, as conservative and liberal justices alike frowned on limiting government contacts with major platforms like Facebook and X (Twitter).

“The government is not monolithic,” Chief Justice John Roberts observed, amid skepticism that the feds had coerced Big Tech companies to clamp down only on conservative opinions.

The arguments left Republicans perplexed, as many seemed to think they were poised to win a landmark decision to stop the government from flagging misinformation and harmful content on social media.

“The government’s arguments are incredibly troubling,” said U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.

What might also be at play is how the Fifth Circuit, which covers Texas, Mississippi, and Louisiana, has become an eager host to numerous legal challenges by conservatives against the Biden Administration, spurring rulings that have gone too far — even for a Supreme Court dominated by conservatives.

One unique nugget from this case was how the government deals with the news media. It came as Justice Samuel Alito complained about the ‘constant pestering’ of Facebook and other platforms, arguing that’s not how the feds treat the press.

“Would you do that to The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal or the Associated Press or any other big newspaper or wire service?” Alito asked.

The answer from two other Justices was a resounding, ‘Yes,’ as they recounted their experience working for the feds.

“I mean, this happens literally thousands of times a day in the federal government,” said Justice Elena Kagan, who served in the Clinton Administration.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh — who worked in the George W. Bush White House — also had similar memories, talking about officials who ‘regularly call up the media and berate them.’

I can certainly attest to that, and social media makes it even easier to lean on reporters and news organizations.

In many ways, this Supreme Court session reminded me of the hearings that Republicans in Congress have held on the ‘weaponization’ of government or the GOP push to impeach President Joe Biden.

The headlines are often eye-catching. Republicans are really good at generating media outrage. But what’s lacking is concrete evidence of wrongdoing.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com