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Federal judge orders Florida to halt bill aimed at stopping Big Tech censorship of Conservatives

Thomas Catenacci, DCNF

  • A federal judge delivered a major setback to a recently-passed Florida law touted by Gov. Ron DeSantis and aimed at stopping Big Tech censorship of conservatives.
  • “Balancing the exchange of ideas among private speakers is not a legitimate governmental interest,” Judge Robert Hinkle wrote in his order Wednesday evening. “And even aside from the actual motivation for this legislation, it is plainly content-based and subject to strict scrutiny.”
  • Technology trade groups NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association — which represent Facebook, Google, Amazon, Twitter and other large tech companies — filed a lawsuit challenging the legislation days after DeSantis signed it into law in May.

A federal judge delivered a major setback to a recently-passed Florida law touted by Gov. Ron DeSantis and aimed at stopping Big Tech censorship of conservatives.

Judge Robert Hinkle, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, ruled that the law signed by DeSantis last month violated the First Amendment in a decision delivered Wednesday evening. Hinkle ordered Florida not to enforce the legislation, which was set to go into effect on Thursday, until a final ruling is issued.

“Balancing the exchange of ideas among private speakers is not a legitimate governmental interest,” Hinkle wrote in his order Wednesday evening. “And even aside from the actual motivation for this legislation, it is plainly content-based and subject to strict scrutiny.”

“It is also subject to strict scrutiny because it discriminates on its face among otherwise-identical speakers,” he continued.

Hinkle added that parts of the legislation are “expressly preempted” by federal law.

During a hearing Monday, Hinkle asked lawyers representing Florida if they had ever seen a more poorly-written law, according to TechFreedom, which participated in the hearing.

Technology trade groups NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association — which represent Facebook, Google, Amazon, Twitter and other large tech companies — filed a lawsuit challenging the legislation days after DeSantis signed it into law in May. They argued that the law was a “smorgasbord of constitutional violations” in the complaint.

“We cannot stand idly by as Florida’s lawmakers push unconstitutional bills into law that bring us closer to state-run media and a state-run internet,” NetChoice Vice President and General Counsel Carl Szabo said in a statement. “The First Amendment protects social media platforms’ right to host and moderate content as they see fit for their business models and users.”

Several groups filed briefs in support of NetChoice’s complaint including TechFreedom, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Media Law Resource Center.

The bill would fine any social media company that suspends or bans a Florida political candidate from their platform $250,000 per day. It would award targeted candidates up to $100,000.

The legislation would also prohibit tech companies from using algorithms to support or suppress certain political content.

DeSantis characterized the legislation as “historic” and the “strongest thing that any state has done” regarding Big Tech censorship.

In January, former President Donald Trump was banned from multiple social media sites including Facebook and Twitter, which he had used to communicate throughout his presidency. Twitter also censored and cracked down on users who shared a New York Post story in October, which reported that it had obtained emails showing President Joe Biden and his son met with a Ukrainian gas company executive in 2015.

Hinkle, who was appointed by former President Bill Clinton, ruled against the DeSantis administration last year in a case involving a law that required felons to pay legal fees before they could regain their voting rights, the Associated Press reported. Hinkle said the the law created a “pay to vote” system.

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Founded by Tucker Carlson, a 25-year veteran of print and broadcast media, and Neil Patel, former chief policy adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, The Daily Caller News Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit providing original investigative reporting from a team of professional reporters that operates for the public benefit.

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