Since Attorney General Ken Paxton’s demand for Twitter documents is toothless without a court order, a judge said the social media giant’s retaliation suit is premature.
SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — A federal judge on Tuesday tossed a lawsuit brought by Twitter against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in which the social media platform accused Paxton of retaliation following its decision to ban users after the January riots on the U.S. Capitol — including former President Donald Trump.
U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney scrapped the lawsuit by Twitter just two months after the social media platform claimed Paxton used his position to open a retaliatory investigation into Twitter’s decision to ban users after the riot. removed many of its users in the wake of the January attack on the United States Capitol building.
In fact, Twitter claims it’s been in Paxton’s sights since at least 2018, when the Lone Star State’s top cop complained Twitter is biased against more conservative users. The company said Paxton’s concerns with Twitter found new life in 2020, however, when he accused Twitter of being politically biased “fact checkers” after Twitter began cracking down false election claims made by Trump regarding mail-in-ballots.
But the dispute took a more legal turn this past January after Twitter decided to suspend Trump entirely from its platform — his preferred method of communicating — following the U.S. Capitol riots. On Jan. 13 — five days after Twitter’s Trump ban took effect — Paxton issued a civil investigative demand asking Twitter to turn over a series of confidential documents tied to its moderation policies.
In a statement announcing the demand, Paxton said his actions were in response to Twitter’s “discriminatory actions.”
“For years, these Big Tech companies have silenced voices in the social media sphere and shut down competing companies and platforms,” Paxton said. “It has only grown worse in recent months.”
But Twitter said the demand went too far. On top of claiming that turning over such sensitive documents would undermine the company’s moderation decisions, Twitter accused Paxton of launching the probe purely to retaliate against the company for making content choices — such as removing Trump from the platform — he disagreed with.
After attempts to negotiate with Paxton to cut back on the scope of his demand failed, Twitter sued Paxton this past March asking a judge to block Paxton’s request.
But in a 7-page ruling Tuesday, Judge Chesney found Paxton’s request is not a “self-executing” one, meaning it does not come armed with a penalty should Twitter decline to respond to it.
For requests that are not self-executing – such as the one levied against Twitter – the only way they can be properly enforced is by a court order. Chesney found Paxton’s office has no authority to issue any kind sanctions against Twitter and has no means of punishing it for not turning over documents.
“Rather, the Office of the Attorney General would be required to go to court, where the only possible consequence adverse to Twitter would be a judicial finding that the CID, contrary to Twitter’s assertion, is enforceable,” Chesney wrote.
Twitter could at that point argue Paxton had stepped beyond his authority. But because he’s made no move to enforce the order as of yet, Chesney found Twitter’s claims are premature and must be tossed.
In a statement, a Twitter spokesperson noted Chesney’s ruling did not address the merits of Twitter’s claims and that the company will continue to defend its free speech rights moving forward.
“The First Amendment protects everyone’s right to free speech, including private companies,” the spokesperson said. “In this case, the Texas Attorney General is misusing the powers of his office to infringe on Twitter’s fundamental rights in an attempt to silence free speech. The court’s ruling today did not conclude otherwise. Although we disagree with some aspects of the court’s findings, we’ll continue working to advance our principles and defend the Open Internet.”
Representatives for Paxton’s office did not immediately respond to request for comment.