Google is pressing a court to throw out a lawsuit by Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard, who claims the search company violated the First Amendment by briefly suspending her advertising account.
In papers filed this week, Google reiterates its argument that it isn't the government, and therefore isn't bound by the First Amendment's prohibition on censoring political speech.
“Plaintiff’s First Amendment claim is meritless and should be dismissed with prejudice,” the company writes in papers filed with U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Wilson in the Central District of California.
The battle dates to July, when Gabbard's campaign sued Google over a short suspension of her account. She alleged that her Ads account was suspended for several hours on June 28 -- two days after she participated in a debate with other candidates.
Her complaint alleged that Google sought “to silence” her, noting that she had called for greater regulation of the company. Google said at the time its automated anti-fraud systems can suspend accounts due to unusual activity, and that her account was reinstated soon after its automated system triggered a suspension.
Google initially urged Wilson to dismiss the complaint last year, arguing that as a private company it could decide what material to allow on its platform.
Gabbard countered in papers filed last month that Google should be considered a “state actor” -- meaning equivalent to the government -- and subject to the same First Amendment rules as the government, due to its role in accepting and verifying election ads.
“The unique nature of elections makes it such that private entities that influence the outcome of elections can be considered state actors,” Gabbard argued.
Google is now asking Wilson to reject that argument. The company says that providing a platform for election ads doesn't transform it into an agent of the state.
“Plaintiff does not allege ... that Google is operating election machinery, that it is conducting an election, or that the state delegated to it the power to select public officials,” the company writes. “What Google does is operate (and set rules for) online advertising that, under certain conditions, can be used by political candidates.”
Google adds that accepting Gabbard's argument would “have sweeping consequences, potentially converting into a state actor any private entity -- from newspapers to restaurants -- that chooses to limit what a political candidate may say on their property.”
Numerous judges have recently thrown out lawsuits accusing Google and other tech companies of “censorship.”
Most recently, earlier this month U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose dismissed a lawsuit against Facebook by the Russian company “Federal Agency of News,” which claimed its free speech rights were violated when it was taken down by the social networking platform. Koh said in her ruling that Facebook wasn't a government entity, and therefore wasn't bound by the First Amendment's prohibition on censorship.
Federal and state judges in California have also thrown out “censorship” lawsuits brought by Prager University against Google.
Google alternatively argues the case should be transferred to the Northern District of California, given that the company's contract with advertisers provides that lawsuits must be brought in courts within Santa Clara County.
Wilson has scheduled a hearing in the matter for March 2.