Supreme Court asks U.S. to weigh in on cases about social content moderation
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Biden administration to weigh in on a pair of cases that could determine the future of social media law, a move that could delay resolution of the disputes until next year. The justices, behind closed doors on Friday, had discussed what to do with the cases, which stem from disputes over Texas and Florida laws that prohibit social media companies from removing content from conservatives. Monday’s order asks Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar to weigh in with the views of the United States government on the cases. That means that while the justices may still end up hearing the cases, experts said it would not be soon. The Florida and Texas cases address issues about the reach of the First Amendment and government regulation. Industry groups NetChoice LLC and the Computer & Communications Industry Association first sued to block both state laws in 2021 and reached opposite results before the cases were appealed to the Supreme Court. John Elwood, a partner at Arnold & Porter and the head of the firm’s appellate and Supreme Court practice, said Monday’s request made it unlikely the cases may be resolved before the end of the Supreme Court’s current term in June. Elwood said that at least four of the justices are required to ask the solicitor general to weigh in. “This is a recognition that this is an important case,” Elwood said. Elwood said that request alone made it significantly more likely that the justices would eventually grant the petitions in the cases. University of Texas Law School professor Steve Vladeck said it is likely the Supreme Court will ultimately hear the case. Sometimes the justices ask for the solicitor general’s position out of curiosity. “And sometimes, it does so just to hit the pause button on cases it knows it is going to grant. This is the latter,” Vladeck tweeted. The Texas and Florida cases are separate from two cases the Supreme Court will hear next month over the legal liability shield social media companies enjoy under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The court also issued its first opinions of the term on Monday, as the court returned to the in-person delivery of opinions for the first time since the start of the pandemic. Justice Amy Coney Barrett delivered her first opinion from the bench, a unanimous opinion holding that a disabled veteran should receive his benefits from the day he applied for them in 2011 rather than when he was discharged in 1981. The case was argued on the court’s second argument day in October. The justices have also rarely waited so long to issue opinions in the cases on their docket. Typically, the justices start issuing opinions in argued cases before the end of the year, and the delay in issuing opinions so far could mean a greater rush before the term ends in June.