A U.S. appeals court ruled on Friday in favor of a Texas law targeting big social media companies like Facebook and Twitter in a victory for Republicans who accuse the platforms of censoring conservative speech.
But the ruling from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans likely won’t be the final word in a legal battle that has stakes beyond Texas, and could impact how some of the The world’s biggest tech companies regulate their users’ content.
The Texas law, signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott last year, has been challenged by tech trade groups who warn it would block platforms from suppressing extremism and hate speech. A similar law was also passed in Florida and ruled unconstitutional by a separate appeals court.
The final word will likely come from the United States Supreme Court, which earlier this year blocked the Texas law while the trial unfolded.
“Today, we reject the idea that corporations have a free First Amendment right to censor what people say,” wrote U.S. Circuit Court Judge Andrew Oldham.
NetChoice, one of the groups challenging the law, expressed disappointment in a statement pointing out that the decision was the opposite of the decision made in the lawsuit against the Florida law.
“We remain confident that when the United States Supreme Court hears any of our cases, it will respect the First Amendment rights of websites, platforms and apps,” said Carl Szabo, Vice President and General Counsel of NetChoice.
Republican lawmakers in several states have backed laws like those enacted in Florida and Texas that sought to portray social media companies as generally liberal and hostile to ideas outside that view, particularly from the political right.
Judge Samuel Alito wrote in May that it was unclear how past High Court First Amendment cases, many of which predate the internet age, apply to Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and other digital platforms.
The Florida law, as enacted, would give the Florida Attorney General the power to prosecute companies under the state’s deceptive and unfair trade practices law. It would also allow individual residents to sue social media companies for up to $100,000 if they believe they have been treated unfairly.
Texas law only applies to the largest social media platforms that have more than 50,000 active users.