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Supreme Court unanimously rules that public officials can be sued for blocking critics on social media

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From LifeSiteNews

By Doug Mainwaring

Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett Justice noted that the personal social media accounts of public officials often present an ‘ambiguous’ status because they mix official announcements with personal content.

The United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Friday that government officials who post about work-related topics on their personal social media accounts can be held liable for violating the First Amendment rights of constituents by blocking their access or deleting their critical comments.  

In a 15-page opinion, Justice Amy Coney Barrett noted that the personal social media accounts of public officials often present an “ambiguous” status because they mix official announcements with personal content.

The court ruled in two cases where people were blocked after leaving critical comments on social media accounts of public officials.   

The first case involved two elected members of a California school board — the Poway Unified School District Board of Trustees — who blocked concerned parents from their Facebook and Twitter accounts after leaving critical comments.  

The court upheld the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that said the board members had violated the parents’ free speech rights.    

The second case before the court concerned James Freed, Port Huron, Michigan’s city manager who had blocked constituent Kevin Lindke from commenting on his Facebook page after deleting his remarks about the city’s COVID-19 pandemic policies.  

Lindke believed that Freed had violated the First Amendment by doing so and sued Freed.  

Freed maintained that he launched his Facebook page long before becoming a public official, arguing that most of the content on his account concerned family-related matters.  

Justice Barrett explained: 

Like millions of Americans, James Freed maintained a Facebook account on which he posted about a wide range of  topics, including his family and his job. Like most of those Americans, Freed occasionally received unwelcome comments on his posts. In response, Freed took a step familiar to Facebook users: He deleted the comments and blocked those who made them.     

For most people with a Facebook account, that would  have been the end of it. But Kevin Lindke, one of the unwelcome commenters, sued Freed for violating his right to free speech. Because the First Amendment binds only the government, this claim is a nonstarter if Freed posted as a private citizen. Freed, however, is not only a private citizen but also the city manager of Port Huron, Michigan — and while Freed insists that his Facebook account was strictly personal, Lindke argues that Freed acted in his official capacity when he silenced Lindke’s speech.

When a government official posts about job-related topics on social media, it can be difficult to tell whether the speech is official or private. We hold that such speech is attributable to the State only if the official (1) possessed actual authority to speak on the State’s behalf, and (2) purported to exercise that authority when he spoke on social media. 

In the end, the high court sent Lindke’s case back to the Sixth Circuit Federal Appeals Court for a second look.  

Perhaps reflecting continued ambiguity following the court’s ruling, both defendant Freed and plaintiff Lindke declared victory. 

“I am very pleased with the outcome the justices came to,” Freed told ABC News in a statement. “The Court rejected the plaintiff’s appearance test and further refined a test for review by the Sixth Circuit. We are extremely confident we will prevail there once more.”  

Lindke was more effusive and told ABC News that he was “ecstatic” with the court’s decision.   

“A 9-0 decision is very decisive and is a clear indicator that public officials cannot hide behind personal social media accounts when discussing official business,” said Lindke.  

Legal experts called attention to the persistence of gray area in the law regarding social media due to the narrowness of the court’s decision. 

“This case doesn’t tell us much new about how to understand the liability of the 20 million people who work in local, state, administrative or federal government in the U.S. … just that the question is complicated,” Kate Klonick, an expert on online-platform regulation who teaches at St. John’s Law School, told The Washington Post 

Katie Fallow, senior counsel for the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University,  told the Post that the court’s ruling does not sufficiently address public officials’ widespread use of personal “shadow accounts,” which constituents often perceive as official.  

Fallow said the court was “right to hold that public officials can’t immunize themselves from First Amendment liability merely by using their personal accounts to conduct official business.”  

We are disappointed, though, that the Court did not adopt the more practical test used by the majority of the courts of appeals, which appropriately balanced the free speech interests of public officials with those of the people who want to speak to them on their social media accounts. 

According to The Hill, the Biden administration and a bipartisan group of 17 states and National Republican Senatorial Committee sided with officials, arguing in favor of their blocks, while the ACLU backed the cons 

Friday’s ruling is only the first of several this term that deal with the relationship between government and social media.

“On Feb. 26, the justices heard argument[s] in a pair of challenges to controversial laws in Florida and Texas that seek to regulate large social-media companies,” explained Amy Howe on Scotusblog.com.  “And on Monday the justices will hear oral arguments in a dispute alleging that the federal government violated the First Amendment by pressuring social media companies to remove false or misleading content. Decisions in those cases are expected by summer.” 

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COVID-19

‘Incompetence’: Pentagon Doesn’t Know How Much Money It Sent To Chinese Entities For Risky Virus Research

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From the Daily Caller News Foundation

By NICK POPE

 

The Department of Defense (DOD) does not know how much money it directly or indirectly sent to Chinese entities to conduct research on viruses with pandemic potential, according to a new report by the DOD’s Office of Inspector General (OIG).

The OIG’s report found that DOD has supplied Chinese entities — whether directly or indirectly via subgrants — with taxpayer cash to research pathogens and the enhancement thereof, but the exact figure is unknown because of “limitations” in the DOD’s internal tracking system. Government funding for such research in China has come under scrutiny since the coronavirus pandemic, which multiple government entities believe started when an engineered virus leaked from a Chinese laboratory that was hosting U.S. government-backed gain-of-function research.

“Incompetence, absurdity, insanity; it’s hard to find a word that adequately describes this. Of all the things that DOD tracks, funds for dangerous research that could find their way to a hostile regime should be at the top of the list of those they keep close tabs on,” Michael Chamberlain, director of Protect the Public’s Trust, told the Daily Caller News Foundation regarding the OIG report’s findings. “It makes you wonder if they really know where all our nuclear warheads are. The military is one of the few areas of government in which the public still maintains a modicum of trust, but, sadly, it looks like they are working hard to squander even that.”

The OIG review of this specific issue was required by the terms of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2024, which President Joe Biden signed into law in December 2023. The OIG’s investigation sought to determine just how much taxpayer cash was routed via “grants, contracts, subgrants, subcontracts, or any other type of agreement or collaboration, to Chinese research labs or to fund research or experiments in China or other foreign countries that could have reasonably resulted in the enhancement of pathogens of pandemic potential, from 2014 through 2023.”

Specifically, the OIG learned from U.S. Army officials that 12 grant awards fit the description of what it was investigating, seven of which were subgrants or subcontracts provided to entities in China or other foreign countries for research involving or related to enhanced pathogens, its report states. The OIG’s review also identified a further $9.9 million in funding that reached Chinese entities for research purposes, though that research was unrelated to pathogens.

“However, we did encounter significant challenges in searching for awards related to section 252 of the FY 2024 NDAA reporting requirement due to limitations in the DoD’s systems used to track contracts and grants,” the OIG report states. “Therefore, the full extent of DoD funds provided to Chinese research laboratories or other foreign countries for research related to enhancement of pathogens of pandemic potential is unknown.”

The issues with DOD’s grant tracking systems created “significant constraints” for OIG that “hindered [its] ability to conduct a thorough examination” of DOD’s involvement in funding this specific type of research, the report states.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) previously conducted a similar review of DOD’s spending and Chinese entities receiving taxpayer dollars to conduct research on pathogens of pandemic potential, and its final report — published in September 2022 — also detailed similar struggles with the DoD’s grant and sub-grant tracking systems.

The Department of Energy (DOE) has concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic most likely began when the virus leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, which was the site of gain-of-function research funded by the U.S. government via an organization called EcoHealth Alliance. Additionally, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray has acknowledged that his organization has reached a similar conclusion.

Despite this, former Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci has reiterated his position that a lab leak is the less likely scenario of the two as recently as Tuesday. The COVID-19 pandemic killed more than one million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and millions more globally, while the American policy response to the pandemic inflicted considerable economic and social damage on the general public.

The DOD did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

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Automotive

‘Save Our Cars’ Is A Winning Campaign Message In An Age Of EV Mandates

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From the Daily Caller News Foundation

By KEVIN MOONEY

 

Automobile consumers who treasure the open roads during the summertime could upend the presidential campaign and U.S. Senate races in surprising places if public opposition to electric-vehicle mandates and other regulations continues to rise.

That is what some recent polls suggest and it certainly helps to explain why the Biden administration is poised to artificially reduce fuel prices by selling one million barrels of gasoline from an energy reserve in New England timed with the summer driving season and in anticipation of the November elections.

Since the East Coast consumed in excess of three million barrels a day of gasoline last June, it is not evident that having an additional one million barrels on the market will make an appreciable difference.

Moreover, there is an argument to be made that by tapping into the reserve Team Biden is leaving the region open to cyberattacks that would disrupt energy supplies. (Recall, that is precisely what happened throughout the southeast in 2021 when a ransomware attack hit the Colonial Pipeline.)

But even in the absence of any cyber drama, the cumulative effect of President Joe Biden’s anti-energy agenda is already registering with consumers who benefit from affordable, reliable energy. This is particularly true where conventional, gas-powered cars are concerned.

On holiday weekends, cars erase differences, bring families together and improve the quality of life. The American Automobile Association (AAA) predicts almost 50 million people will travel 50 miles or more from their homes to celebrate Independence Day over the weekend of June 30 to July 4.

This would represent an increase of 3.7% from 2021 bringing travel volumes to where they were prior to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019. This increase will be particularly acute with AAA expecting 42 million Americans to hit the roads this coming Independence Day.

But what about those EV mandates?

President Biden and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a fellow Democrat, remain undeterred by the paucity of charging stations, the limited range of EV’s, their exorbitant costs, and the vulnerability of foreign supply chains leading back to China as they press ahead with new regulatory initiatives. Biden’s Environmental Protection Agency finalized a tailpipe emissions rule in March aimed at coercing automakers into selling more EVs while the California Air Resources Board is pressing ahead with a “zero emissions” rule the board approved last year to meet Newsom’s stated climate goals.

California is clearly working hand in glove with the Biden administration to achieve zero emissions goals for vehicles by 2035. This effort will most certainly limit consumer choice and raise costs.

Despite all the subsidies and regulatory schemes developed to favor EV’s, they represent only about 1% of the 290 million vehicles in the U.S. today. Meanwhile EV costs continue to soar.

Recent studies also show that EVs, on average, are more expensive to own and operate than their gas-powered counterparts. So how should consumers respond to the regulatory onslaught?

Enter the “Save Our Cars Coalition,” which includes 31 national and state organizations devoted to preserving the ability of consumers to select the vehicles most suitable to their needs.

Tom Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, a coalition member that favors free market energy policies, views cars as an integral component of American life. The Biden-Newsom regulations amount to what Pyle describes as “an assault on American freedom.”

“In a nation as expansive as the United States, cars are not merely vehicles, they are integral to the American way of life,” Pyle says. “They play a pivotal role in our daily lives, especially in suburban and rural settings. This modern-day prohibition would outlaw a product and a value–in this case, gasoline-powered cars and trucks that have created personal mobility on an unprecedented scale – that it cannot persuade people to forego themselves.”

The coalition is perfectly positioned to make EV mandates a campaign issue in areas where the affordability of cars capable of traversing long distances without frequent stops is very much on the minds of voters. State officials who continue to double-down on California-type regulations will only serve to bolster the coalition’s arguments.

By contrast, states that break free from California’s emissions standards could become surprisingly competitive in the presidential race. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, recently announced that he would end California’s EV mandate in his state by the end of this year. Although Virginia hasn’t backed a Republican for president since George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004, polls show Biden and  Donald Trump are in a dead heat. The former, and perhaps future Republican president, is on record opposing Biden’s EV mandates.

By contrast, Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey, a Democrat elected in 2017 and re-elected in 2021, is moving full speed ahead with a California-type mandate requiring all new car sales to be electric by 2035. Polls show Murphy’s Jersey constituents are not keen on the policy change. In fact, more than half of state residents say they are not inclined to buy an electric car even with the mandates.

New Jersey has not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since George Bush Sr. won the state in 1988. But fresh polls show Biden leading Trump by just seven points in the Garden State. It is worth noting that New Jersey has a large block of unaffiliated voters that can be pliable in tight races such as the most recent gubernatorial campaign.

Murphy almost lost his re-election bid to Republican Jack Ciattarelli, a former assemblyman and businessman, who came within a few percentage points of pulling off an upset. Trump’s campaign rally in Wildwood, N.J., that attracted more than 100,000 people could also serve as a barometer for a potentially close election. A beach resort community, Wildwood is practically inaccessible without the kind of vehicles Biden and Newsom are attempting to ban.

The big prize though may be Pennsylvania where Trump is leading Biden in recent polls. There is also a competitive U.S. Senate race in that state between Sen. Robert Casey Jr., the Democratic incumbent, and Dave McCormick, the Republican challenger.

Polls show Casey is only ahead by six points. So far, Casey has been ducking and avoiding any questions about his position on EV mandates. With Trump already leading, and McCormick gaining in the Keystone State, anyone running on a platform of “Save Our Cars” could have a field day.

Kevin Mooney is the Senior Investigative Reporter at the Commonwealth Foundation’s free-market think tank and writes for several national publications. Twitter: @KevinMooneyDC

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