Appeals court blocks Biden administration officials from being deposed in social media censorship lawsuit

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The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday stopped three previously court-ordered depositions of Biden administration officials in a lawsuit claiming the government colluded with social media companies to censor debate about the COVID pandemic, election security, and The Post’s expose on the Hunter Biden laptop.

A panel on the federal appeals court overruled Louisiana District Judge Terry Doughty, who in October compelled Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Jen Easterly, and White House Director of Digital Strategy Rob Flaherty to schedule deposition in a lawsuit brought in May by Republican attorneys general Eric Schmitt of Missouri and Jeff Landry of Louisiana.

The panel argued that Doughty did not examine whether the information sought by Schmitt and Landry could be obtained by other means. The two attorneys general are trying to prove that President Biden and other top officials deprived Americans of their First Amendment rights by pressuring social media companies to censor material. 

Jen Easterly speaks during the summer meeting of the National Association of Secretaries of State in Des Moines, Iowa.
Jen Easterly speaks during the summer meeting of the National Association of Secretaries of State in Des Moines, Iowa.
AP

“Before any of the depositions may go forward, the district court must analyze whether the information sought can be obtained through less intrusive, alternative means, such as further written discovery or depositions of lower-ranking officials,” the 5th circuit panel wrote in Monday’s order. 

“It is not enough, as the district court found, that these officials may have ‘personal knowledge’ about certain communications. That knowledge may be shared widely or have only marginal importance in comparison to the ‘potential burden’ imposed on the deponent,” the ruling continues. 

Doughty was appointed to the Louisiana district court by former President Donald Trump. Two of the three judges on the 5th circuit panel, Edith Clement and Leslie Southwick, were appointed by former President George W. Bush, and one, Stephen Higginson, was appointed by former President Barack Obama. Their ruling was unanimous.

Other Biden administration figures, such as Dr. Anthony Fauci and former White House press secretary Jen Psaki, are still slated to be deposed in the lawsuit. Psaki’s deposition is scheduled for Dec. 8th, according to Politico. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a prominent Biden administration figure, is still set to be removed in the lawsuit.
Dr. Anthony Fauci (right), a prominent Biden administration figure, is still set to be removed in the lawsuit.
Getty Images

However, the ruling by the 5th Circuit could help the Justice Department and lawyers for Psaki overturn her court-ordered testimony. 

Doughty must clarify the analysis in his previous ruling for the depositions of Murthy, Easterly and Flaherty to move forward.

Elvis Chan, who ran the cyber branch of the FBI’s San Francisco field office, and reportedly communicated with Facebook about censoring the Hunter Biden laptop story, has also been forced to sit for a deposition in the case. 

“It is high time we shine a light on this censorship enterprise and force these officials to come clean to the American people, and this ruling will allow us to do just that. We’ll keep pressing for the truth,” Schmitt, who on Nov. 8 was elected to the US Senate in Missouri, said in a statement hailing Doughty’s October decision.

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