Reactions to the Supreme Court’s 6-3 Decision in Murthy v Missouri

Prithvi Iyer, Ben Lennett, Justin Hendrix / Jun 27, 2024

In 6-3 ruling on the "jawboning" case, the Supreme Court found the plaintiffs failed to establish standing to sue.

On Wednesday, June 26, the US Supreme Court issued a 6-3 decision in favor of the US government in Murthy v Missouri. The case centered around whether the Biden administration violated the First Amendment in its efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 misinformation online. The Supreme Court decision reversed a decision by the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit that had found that the administration had violated the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights by communicating with technology platforms about content moderation policy, finding that the plaintiffs did not have standing to bring the case. "Neither the individual nor the state plaintiffs have established Article III standing to seek an injunction against any defendant," the Supreme Court decision says.

The plaintiffs, civil society groups, advocates, legal experts, lawmakers, and others issued a range of statements following the decision. What follows is a selection of statements, both in favor and opposed to the decision.

Statements in Support of the Supreme Court Decision

Meetali Jain, Executive Director of the Tech Justice Law Project

“Today, the Court preserved the ability of government and researchers to ensure Americans receive true and accurate information from social media platforms on subjects ranging from disaster preparedness to foreign interference with elections. Contrary to the position advocated by right-wing activists and attorneys general, cooperation between the government and the platforms ensures our safety and security.”

Read the full statement here.

Sacha Haworth, Executive Director of The Tech Oversight Project

“In Big Tech’s effort to inoculate itself from reasonable outside pressure or regulation, Google, Apple, Amazon, and Meta cynically bankrolled radical right-wing activists like the Federalist Society and the CATO Institute to do their dirty work… This ruling correctly affirms the federal government’s right to notify the platforms about credible digital threats from foreign and domestic actors and puts the onus on tech companies to take those threats seriously.”

Read the full statement here.

Nicole Gill, Executive Director and Co-Founder, Accountable Tech

“The lawsuits brought by Missouri and Louisiana were meritless and based on inaccuracies intended to weaponize the First Amendment, which would have undermined the government’s ability to defend the U.S. against election interference and disinformation campaigns, particularly in a critical election year. Cooperation between the government and platforms about foreign influence campaigns, election integrity and public health emergencies is essential to preserving public safety and a healthy democracy.”

“This decision comes at a pivotal time, just months before the November election, as tech companies cut back on trust and safety teams and are recklessly deploying new AI products that are contributing to accelerated online disinformation. It is imperative that we remain vigilant against the threat posed by networked disinformation and any efforts that hamper the government’s ability to protect election integrity.”

Read the full statement here.

Ishan Mehta, Media and Democracy Program Director at Common Cause

“This ruling checks a dangerous overreach by the lower courts. The Supreme Court’s opinion today turned back a serious threat to public safety as well as to our very system of democratic government. The Supreme Court’s ruling today struck an important balance between free speech and public safety when it comes to social media platforms spreading mis- and disinformation about COVID-19 and our elections. Social media companies have an obligation to protect elections from disinformation, and it is vital that state, local, and federal agencies be able to collaborate with the platforms to combat this threat. Further, civil society organizations like Common Cause play a critical role safeguarding our elections, and prohibiting communications between groups like ours and the government, as proposed in the injunction, would leave Americans more vulnerable and it would violate our First Amendment rights.”

Read the full statement here.

Lisa Macpherson, Policy Director, Public Knowledge

“The Supreme Court dismissed this specious case for lack of standing, in part because neither the states nor the individual social media users were able to prove – or even allege – that government agencies’ or officials’ actions caused them any injury. They weren’t even able to prove the alleged government coercion ever happened: The Court found no traceability or causation between government communication and platforms’ content moderation of the plaintiffs’ posts.”

“We applaud this decision, which also closes the path for other plaintiffs to make similar baseless claims. We hope that it will help spell the end of the orchestrated effort to equate government communication with platforms with ‘censorship,’ with the aim of chilling platform content moderation and preserving the ability to use disinformation as a political strategy.”

Read the full statement here.

Brandi Geurkink, Executive Director, Coalition for Independent Technology Research

“Today’s ruling in Murthy v. Missouri affirms what many have been saying since the beginning: This case should never have been brought. The original lawsuit filed by the AG of Missouri was filled with inaccuracies and baseless speculation—so much so that the court went out of its way to note that the evidence in the case was “murky” at best and that a number of the lower courts’ key findings were “clearly erroneous.” From selectively misquoting researchers to misrepresenting how information was tagged, these inaccuracies formed the basis of much of the complaint. Though the case centered on the federal government’s actions, it also falsely claimed that independent researchers carried out censorship activity on behalf of the government.”

“Not only did the court see through these false claims, it also reaffirmed that technology researchers are independent actors who have a right under the First Amendment to research and investigate a variety of topics, to collaborate with other scholars and organizations, and to communicate their findings to the public, to companies, and to the government. Ultimately, these freedoms empower researchers to contribute to the public good and our self-governance. They also help Americans make sense of some of the most pressing societal challenges, like the impacts that social media has on our elections and the health and well-being of our children and our communities – which even the dissent acknowledged is one of the most important roles of free speech.”

Read the full statement here.

Nora Benavidez, Senior Counsel and Director, Digital Justice and Civil Rights at Free Press

There are essential moments when our government should be allowed, even encouraged, to contact private companies like social media platforms and provide factual information to them, especially when issues of foreign interference, election integrity, national security and encouragement of violence crop up online and pose real-world threats. In its ruling in Murthy v. Missouri, the Supreme Court didn’t reach the question of whether the First Amendment restricts government engagement with private speech. In the Court’s opinion, however, Justice Barrett did indicate that platforms should be free to regularly communicate with outside experts and officials on content-moderation issues.”

“Of course, we should be wary of government intrusions into private speech, including possible official efforts to coerce social-media platforms’ behavior. We know that officials sometimes abuse their power to limit speech from dissenting and minority opinions. Risks to free speech should not be taken lightly. But the Biden administration’s efforts to fight misinformation do not amount to censorship; rather, they are efforts to make platforms aware of the potential public harms that could result from the unvetted spread of falsehoods via their networks. There is already a notable gap between what social-media platforms promise to do when it comes to content that violates their own terms of service — such as disinformation and hate — and what they actually do in practice. These companies also provide very little insight into their content-moderation and enforcement decisions. If the ruling had favored the state AGs, platforms could have ignored government communications even more brazenly and evaded dialogue with other sectors such as independent researchers and civil-society organizations.”

“As national elections approach, platforms like Meta, Twitter, and YouTube are in full retreat from their previous commitments to apply robust policies on misinformation and have laid off thousands of workers responsible for ensuring real safety for users — and U.S. voters. This is a perilous moment as we head toward November with social-media platforms playing a powerful role that is ripe for manipulation and interference. For now, the Court’s decision permits government officials to continue advising these platforms about possible and real threats. We hope that this ruling will encourage platforms to be more accountable for taking down the lies they help spread.”

Read the full statement here.

Nick Penniman, CEO, Issue One

“The government has a right to communicate with the private sector about potential risks to the public. Whether those risks relate to national security, communicable diseases, or our elections, the Court’s ruling will enable the government to speak and the corporations to act, if they choose to.”

“False, misleading, and dangerous information about our elections and the people who run them have proliferated across social media platforms for much of the past decade, driven by foreign adversaries and domestic bad actors who have sought to erode public confidence in American democracy. And in recent years, platforms have also dramatically downsized teams responsible for election integrity and have failed to take action on policies to prevent the spread of false election information. This has made it exponentially harder for the average voter to determine fact from fiction about how, when, and where to vote, particularly during such a critical election year. That’s why maintaining open lines of communication between tech companies, the federal government, and key stakeholders to readily share information, identify emerging threats and cybersecurity vulnerabilities, and work together to disseminate accurate information is vitally important.”

Read the full statement here.

Maya Wiley, CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

“Today’s Supreme Court decision in Murthy v. Missouri is a narrow decision, but it allows, rightfully, for our government to go to bat for public health and the integrity of our elections. The Fifth Circuit had wrongly blocked the federal government from interacting with tech companies to protect us from misinformation, whether around a public health emergency like COVID or voting. The Supreme Court’s majority correctly reversed the Fifth Circuit injunction on the basis that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue.”

“Disinformation is not a partisan issue nor an issue of free speech on private social media platforms. Manufactured and malicious disinformation is an underlying threat to the fabric of our democracy, public health, and civil rights. Online voting disinformation and hate speech stokes fear and distrust in our election infrastructure, misleads voters on where and how to vote, and sows hate against historically marginalized communities and public servants. We watched in horror as lies about the source of the COVID virus led to violence against Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. There are extremists leading large-scale disinformation campaigns in order to divide us, dismantle our democracy, and take our electoral power away. We will not stand for that. We will fight for the thriving multiracial democracy we all deserve.”

Read the full statement here.

Pooja Chaudhuri, Counsel, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

“Today’s Supreme Court decision in Murthy v. Missouri leaves intact the government’s ability to communicate with social media companies and help stop the spread of harmful misinformation on their platforms. Election mis- and disinformation is a serious threat to the ability of Black voters and other voters of color to participate in elections.”

“In past election cycles, bad actors have used social media platforms to target social media accounts of users who identify as Black to then share posts about why these voters should not turn out to vote. Other bad actors have spread inaccurate information on the methods of voting including where, when, and how to vote. Yet others have shared that ICE may be at the polls, an intimidation tactic designed to dissuade vulnerable communities that may be fearful of ICE enforcement from showing up to vote. The government plays a critical role in countering mis- and disinformation by flagging these posts and communicating with social media companies.”

Read the full statement here.

Carl Szabo, Vice President and General Counsel, NetChoice

“The Court’s decision in Murthy underscores the importance of protecting online services’ First Amendment right to editorial judgment. We are pleased the majority opinion recognized that platforms have ‘independent incentives to moderate content’ separate from government influence. Justice Alito’s dissent additionally provides an important warning to Americans about the dangers of government controlling online speech. It reinforces why NetChoice is dedicated to fighting to ensure the First Amendment rights of Americans and our businesses are protected from government overreach.”

Read the full statement here.

Alex Abdo, Litigation Director, Knight First Amendment Institute 

“Based on the Court’s account of the facts, it was right to reverse the Fifth Circuit. Still, it is disappointing that we have so little guidance on the limits that the First Amendment places on government efforts to pressure social media platforms into suppressing speech. The platforms are attractive targets for official pressure, and so it’s crucial that the Supreme Court clarify the line between permissible attempts to persuade and impermissible attempts to coerce. This guidance would have been especially valuable in the months leading up to the election.”

Read the full statement here.

Statements Opposing the Supreme Court Decision

Liz Murrill, Attorney General, Louisiana

“Today's decision in Murthy v Missouri is unfortunate and disappointing. A majority of the Supreme Court gives a free pass to the federal government to threaten tech platforms into censorship and suppression of speech that is indisputably protected by the First Amendment. The majority waves off the worst government coercion scheme in history.Justices Alito, Thomas, and Gorsuch rightly reached the merits and had no problem finding that plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits. Though this is not the outcome we hoped for, I’ll keep fighting to defend and protect our rights.”

Read the full statement here.

Andrew Bailey, Attorney General, Missouri

“My office filed suit against dozens of officials in the federal government to stop the biggest violation of the First Amendment in our nation’s history. The record is clear: the deep state pressured and coerced social media companies to take down truthful speech simply because it was conservative. Today’s ruling does not dispute that. My rallying cry to disappointed Americans is this: Missouri is not done. We are going back to the district court to obtain more discovery in order to root out Joe Biden’s vast censorship enterprise once and for all. We will remain vigilant to build the wall of separation between tech and state, but I could not be prouder of what my team and this case has exposed so far. Missouri will continue to lead the way in the fight to defend our most fundamental freedoms.”

Read the full statement here.

J. Marc Wheat, General Counsel, Advancing American Freedom

“Today, the Supreme Court failed to hold the Biden Administration accountable for its censorship of Americans through social media companies, finding that the plaintiffs in Murthy v. Missouri lacked standing. In our amicus brief, we argued that the government cannot indirectly censor speech that it dislikes any more than it can do so directly, yet that is exactly what it did here. The Court’s failure to ensure that Americans’ First Amendment speech and associational rights are protected ensures that they will be violated in the future. The standing doctrine is an important limitation on the Court, ensuring that it cannot insert itself into every issue it thinks is important. Nonetheless, the Court should not use standing to avoid its fundamental duty: protecting the rights of the people.”

Read the full statement here.

Robert Corn-Revere, Chief Counsel, FIRE

“The Supreme Court sidestepped deciding whether government pressure on social media platforms violates the First Amendment. But just a few weeks ago, it unanimously reaffirmed a core First Amendment principle: The government can’t censor by private coercion any more than it can by public legislation. Despite reams of evidence documenting government pressure, the court held today these plaintiffs lacked standing to sue. FIRE is concerned about what this means for future First Amendment plaintiffs. But the majority opinion notes courts have the power to stop government attempts to pressure social media platforms when proven. That’s important. When government officials attempt to force platforms into censorship, Americans need to know. To secure transparency, Congress must take action. A little bit of sunlight would go a long way toward ending the censorship by coercion at issue here.”

Read the full statement here.

Mathew Staver, Founder and Chairman, Liberty Counsel

“Censoring viewpoints is a direct affront to free speech and offensive to the First Amendment. Once standing can be established, this government censorship of social media will end.”

Read the full statement here.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), House Judiciary Committee Chairman

“The First Amendment is first for a reason, and the freedom of expression should be protected from any infringement by the government. Our country benefits when ideas can be tested and debated fairly on their merits, whether online or in the halls of Congress. The Committee and the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government have uncovered how and the extent to which the Biden Administration engaged in a censorship campaign in violation of the First Amendment. While we respectfully disagree with the Court's decision, our investigation has shown the need for legislative reforms, such as the Censorship Accountability Act, to better protect Americans harmed by the unconstitutional censorship-industrial complex. Our important work will continue."

Read the full statement here.

John Vecchione, Senior Litigation Counsel, New Civil Liberties Alliance

"The majority of the Supreme Court has declared open season on Americans’ free speech rights on the internet. They have issued an ukase that the Federal Government, which admittedly had a huge apparatus aimed at getting the social media companies to remove speech like our clients’. The government’s actions caused the social media companies to remove such messages whether they violated the platforms’ policies or not. The Supreme Court, which is not a factfinder in these cases, just determined against all evidence that the Federal Government will not be held accountable for the natural consequences of its speech-squelching actions. The Government can press third parties to silence you, but the Supreme Court will not find you have standing to complain about it absent them referring to you by name apparently. This is a bad day for the First Amendment.”

Read the full statement here.

Dr. Jayanta Bhattacharya, Professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine in the Department of Health Policy

“In the guise of countering misinformation, the Biden Administration used its regulatory power to suppress valid criticism of its COVID response. This led to irrational policies, such as extended school disruptions, the anti-science denial of recovered immunity, counterproductive vaccine mandates, and the sidelining and gaslighting of the vaccine-injured. Free speech is essential to science, to public health, and to good health. In light of the Supreme Court’s reluctance to fully protect free speech today, we will need concrete action by Congress, and a popular movement, to restore free speech rights as a central plank of the American civic religion.”

Read the full statement here.

Children’s Health Defense

“CHD is deeply disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision in Murthy v. Missouri to reverse the preliminary injunction that the Western District of Louisiana granted and the Fifth Circuit affirmed. We consider the government’s role in coercing and encouraging censorship by social media platforms the greatest threat to free speech in our time. We note that the Supreme Court did not reach the merits. We will continue with Kennedy v. Biden, a separate lawsuit in the Western District of Louisiana, where we believe there is no issue regarding lack of standing for Robert F. Kennedy Jr. or Children’s Health Defense, who were directly and traceably censored and continue to be heavily censored. We expect this case to move forward even if standing remains an issue for the Missouri v. Biden plaintiffs.”

Read the full statement here.


Prithvi Iyer
Prithvi Iyer is a Program Manager at Tech Policy Press. He completed a masters of Global Affairs from the University of Notre Dame where he also served as Assistant Director of the Peacetech and Polarization Lab. Prior to his graduate studies, he worked as a research assistant for the Observer Resea...
Ben Lennett
Ben Lennett is managing editor for Tech Policy Press and a writer and researcher focused on understanding the impact of social media and digital platforms on democracy. He has worked in various research and advocacy roles for the past decade, including as the policy director for the Open Technology ...
Justin Hendrix
Justin Hendrix is CEO and Editor of Tech Policy Press, a new nonprofit media venture concerned with the intersection of technology and democracy. Previously, he was Executive Director of NYC Media Lab. He spent over a decade at The Economist in roles including Vice President, Business Development & ...