For the last few months, Republican lawmakers in Florida, including the rabidly pro-Trump Gov. Ron DeSantis, have been trying to come up with a way to punish the social media companies who banned the former president from their platforms in the wake of the Capitol riot in January.
The result was a law that would require companies like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to allow politicians to say whatever they wanted without fear of suspension, claiming it was the politicians’ right under the First Amendment.
On Wednesday evening, hours before the law was due to come into effect, a judge blocked the new legislation and slammed the lawmakers’ claims, pointing out that the law violates the companies’ protections under the First Amendment.
“Like prior First Amendment restrictions, this is an instance of burning the house to roast a pig,” U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle of the Northern District of Florida, wrote in his ruling.
The bill passed the state legislature in April, and DeSantis signed it in May, despite bipartisan criticism calling the law unconstitutional. Critics said the bill would force platforms to host antisemitic, racist, and hateful content.
The law, due to come into effect Thursday, would allow Florida to fine the companies up to $250,000 per day if they suspended politicians in the run-up to elections, no matter what content they posted.
DeSantis said the law was an effort to fight back against what he and many other Republicans falsely call institutional anti-conservative bias on social media.
But Hinkle disagreed, granting a temporary injunction blocking the law.
“The legislation compels providers to host speech that violates their standards—speech they otherwise would not host—and forbids providers from speaking as they otherwise would,” Hinkle said in his ruling. “Balancing the exchange of ideas among private speakers is not a legitimate governmental interest.”
The judge also called out the obvious partisan nature of the legislation, calling it “viewpoint-based” and motivated solely by anger at a perceived liberal bias in Silicon Valley.
Hinkle said the legislation was “riddled with imprecision and ambiguity” and concluded that it “does not survive strict scrutiny.”
The ruling had been widely expected after the judge criticized the legislation during a hearing earlier this week.
“I won't put you on the spot, but I want to know if you've ever dealt with a statute that is more poorly drafted,” the judge asked the lawyer representing the state in court earlier this week.
Despite the court’s brutal evisceration of the law, DeSantis says he’s not giving up.
“We are disappointed by Judge Hinkle’s ruling and disagree with his determination that the U.S. Constitution protects Big Tech’s censorship of certain individuals and content over others,” his office said in a statement.
NetChoice and the Computer and Communication Industry Association (CCIA), the advocacy groups that represent the social media companies and brought the lawsuit challenging DeSantis’ law, welcomed the ruling.
“This decision upholding the Constitution and federal law is encouraging, and reaffirms what we have been saying: Florida’s statute is an extraordinary overreach, designed to penalize private businesses for their perceived lack of deference to the Government’s political ideology,” Matt Schruers, president of the CCIA, said in a statement posted on the group’s website. “The court’s ruling is a win for Internet users and the First Amendment.”
But just as the bogus Arizona audit has sparked similar efforts in other states, the Republican-led legislation in Florida has sparked a wave of similar efforts across the country.
In Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has backed a law that would stop social media platforms from banning users based on their “viewpoint,” specifically religious or political speech.