In an unusual alliance, the five justices in the majority were Chief Justice John Roberts, Stephen Breyer, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Connie Barrett and Sonia Sotomayor.
Liberal Justice Elena Kagan was joined by conservative Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, who declined the request.
The Supreme Court ruling is a loss for Texas. The state argued that its law, HB 20, which prohibits large social media companies from banning, banning or downgrading posts or accounts, does not violate the First Amendment.
The majority did not explain their reasoning and Kagan did not specify her own reasons for voting to allow the law to remain in place.
But Alito, writing for himself, Thomas and Gorsuch, criticized the majority decision. He said the case raises questions of “significant importance” regarding Texas’ “groundbreaking” law that addresses “the power of dominant social media companies to shape public discussion of important issues today.” He stressed that he did not form a “conclusive view” on the new legal issues arising from the law, but he would not have intervened to obstruct the law “at this stage of the proceedings”.
“Texas should not be required to obtain prior authorization from the federal courts before their laws are in effect,” Alito wrote.
Opponents of HB 20, including the tech industry, have argued that the legislation violates the constitutional rights of tech platforms to make editorial decisions and freedom from government-imposed speech.
The state argued that HB 20 does not violate the First Amendment because the law seeks to regulate technology platforms’ behavior toward their users, not corporate speech, and that it seeks to classify them as “common carriers” similar to rail and telephone companies. .
The broader case is seen as a leader in the social media industry and could determine whether tech platforms should scale back over moderation of their content in more than just Texas, and allow a wide range of material that their terms currently prohibit.
The Computer and Communications Industry Association, one of the groups behind the emergency petition, said the resolution upholds more than 200 years of free speech principles against government encroachment on private speech.
“We appreciate the Supreme Court’s assurance to ensure protection of the First Amendment, including the right not to be forced to speak, during a legal challenge to the Texas social media law,” said Matt Schroers, President of the CCIA. “The Supreme Court’s observation of the constitutional risks of this law is important not only to online businesses and freedom of expression, but to a fundamental principle of democratic states.”
CNN has reached out to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton for comment.
In a separate dispute, a different federal appeals court kept most of the similar law out of Florida, splitting a circuit over the issue. Oftentimes, the higher court is more likely to enter into a dispute if the lower courts are in direct conflict.
Texas law is being challenged by defense groups representing the technology industry.
In court papers, the groups described the law as an “unprecedented assault on the freedom of editorial discretion of private websites.” They warn that it will “force platforms to publish all kinds of objectionable viewpoints – such as Russian propaganda claiming that its invasion of Ukraine is justified, ISIS propaganda claiming that extremism is justified, neo-Nazis or the KKK denying or supporting the Holocaust, encouraging children to engage in risky or unhealthy behaviors such as eating disorders.”
In response, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton argued that HB 20 does not infringe on tech platforms’ speech rights.
The legal battle has drawn “friends of the court” summaries from interested parties including groups such as the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP who have urged the court to ban the law, arguing that it “would turn social media platforms into online repositories of evil, graphic, harmful, hateful and fraudulent content, unhelpful.” individuals who are currently participating in these communities.”
A group of states led by Florida also filed a lawsuit to defend the Texas law. The Court Friend’s Brief, written by dozens of states including Alabama, Arizona, Kentucky and South Carolina, reflects how the legal battle over HB 20 is having nationwide repercussions.