Federal Judges Uphold Social-Media Free Speech Rights

Published September 6, 2016

Federal judges unanimously ruled against Federal Election Commission (FEC), a federal government regulatory agency tasked with enforcing restrictions on political organizations’ activities, deciding the agency cannot prevent individuals or organizations from mentioning candidates’ names in their communications.

In August, a panel of 3 judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that FEC lacked the power to prevent Pursuing America’s Greatness, a partisan political action committee, from using a political candidate’s name on Facebook pages and websites.

Rolling Back Censorship
David Keating, the president of Center for Competitive Politics, a non-partisan non-profit organization dedicated to protecting Americans’ rights to free speech and assembly, says the court victory will lead to future victories against the government’ censorship of people’s voices.

“It’s a great decision that will help future challenges against the FEC,” Keating said. “This court usually decides cases brought against the FEC. The fact that the decision strongly reinforces Supreme Court precedents could be an important factor in future cases against the agency.”

Keating says the judges’ decision to keep FEC in check was the right call.

“Perhaps the most important aspect of this case is the application of ‘strict scrutiny,'” Keating said. “The court refused to water down the strict scrutiny test.”

Little Need for Free-Speech Regulation
Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, says more political speech and less regulation is better for everyone.

“I don’t think there should be, or can be, regulation of who says what in political campaigns, with the exception of making sure that entities not associated with a candidate don’t try to fool people into thinking they represent the candidate,” Spakovsky said. “Other than that, we should have a totally open political speech environment that robustly encourages more speech.”

More Threats to Speech Rights
Even though the decision was a victory for Americans using social media to express their beliefs, von Spakovsky says there are more looming threats to Facebook users and social-media activists’ rights.

“What is important to them is the fact that the FEC put in place a regulation in 2006, when I was on the commission, that has a hands-off attitude towards political speech on the Internet, with the one exception of paid political ads,” von Spakovsky said. “What should be of greater concern to ordinary people is the push, so far unsuccessful, of Democratic FEC Commissioner Ann Ravel to revisit this regulation. She wants more regulation of political speech and advocacy on the web; this is extremely dangerous and a step towards censorship.”