Florida has asked the Supreme Court to rule on whether states may force social media companies to host content they would rather remove — setting up a potential landmark battle over digital speech rights and content moderation that could reshape the country’s relationship with the First Amendment.
In a petition submitted to the Court on Wednesday, Florida’s attorney general argued the dominance of major social media platforms and their ability to promote the views of some users over others means it is critical for justices to weigh in on the issue.
“The question whether the First Amendment essentially disables the States — and presumably the federal government too — from meaningfully addressing those distortions should be answered by this Court, and it should be answered now,” the petition said.
At the center of the court battle is a Florida law, SB 7072, that allows political candidates to sue social media companies if they are blocked or removed from the platforms for more than 14 days.
Opponents representing the tech industry had sued to block that law, arguing it infringed on the First Amendment rights of private companies. Earlier this year, a federal appeals court agreed with that reasoning, leading to Florida’s petition for Supreme Court intervention this week.
Mainstream legal experts have said if SB 7072 survives legal challenge, tech companies could be forced to host spam, hate speech and other legal-but-problematic material on their platforms. It could also rewrite decades of First Amendment precedent that’s prohibited governments from compelling private parties to host speech, they have said.
In a statement Wednesday, NetChoice — one of the challengers to the Florida law — said it welcomed Florida’s petition.
“We agree with Florida that the US Supreme Court should hear this case, and we’re confident that First Amendment rights will be upheld,” said Carl Szabo, NetChoice’s vice president and general counsel. “We look forward to seeing Florida in court and having the lower court’s decision upheld. We have 200 years of precedent on our side.”
The petition comes days after another federal appeals court upheld a similar law in Texas that allows social media users to sue platforms if they move to “block, ban, remove, deplatform, demonetize, de-boost, restrict, deny equal access or visibility to, or otherwise discriminate against expression.” (In May, the Supreme Court temporarily blocked the Texas law from taking effect while the litigation continued.)
Last week’s decision by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the Texas law contrasts with the ruling from the Eleventh Circuit earlier this year that held Florida’s law to be unconstitutional — creating a circuit split that makes it likelier for the Supreme Court to intervene.