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A federal appeals court has agreed to suspend enforcement of Texas’ social media law restricting content moderation, in the face of a looming request by tech industry groups for the Supreme Court to review the case.
In an order on Wednesday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay of its earlier mandate that had paved the way for the Texas law, known as HB 20, to take effect.
HB 20 aims to expose social media platforms including Meta, YouTube and Twitter to new private lawsuits, as well as suits by the state’s attorney general, over the companies’ decisions to remove or reduce the visibility of user content they deem objectionable.
The law is viewed as a challenge to decades of First Amendment precedent, which holds the government may not compel private entities to host speech.
In a filing leading up to Wednesday’s order, the technology groups challenging the Texas law said they planned to ask for the Supreme Court to rule on HB 20, and that Texas did not oppose the motion for a stay.
The Supreme Court has already indicated it is open to regulating social media platforms, agreeing this month to hear two cases that could indirectly narrow the scope of the tech industry’s all-important liability shield, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
Some justices, including conservatives Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, have explicitly cited the role and power of social media platforms as reasons the Court should step in.
Last month, Florida’s attorney general called on the Supreme Court to review a social media law in that state that is similar to Texas’ legislation. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals had earlier blocked Florida’s law, saying it was likely unconstitutional.
That finding created a split with the Fifth Circuit’s decision to uphold Texas’ law, making it even more likely for the Supreme Court to take up the matter.