Twitter is pressing a federal judge to order Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to halt his investigation into the company's content-moderation practices.
“Twitter’s exercise of its First Amendment rights will continue to be chilled so long as AG Paxton’s retaliatory investigation remains live,” the company argues in papers filed Monday with U.S. District Court Judge Maxine Chesney in the Northern District of California.
The company's new filing comes in a legal dispute dating to March, when Twitter alleged in a federal lawsuit that Paxton was violating the company's First Amendment rights by investigating its editorial decisions -- including its ban of former President Donald Trump.
Twitter and other tech companies suspended Trump's accounts in early January, shortly after rioters stormed Capitol Hill.
Paxton subsequently demanded that Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon Web Services and Apple provide detailed information to him regarding their content-moderation policies. He said at the time that the “seemingly coordinated de-platforming” of Trump and others “wholly silences those whose speech and political beliefs do not align with leaders of Big Tech companies.”
Numerous judges throughout the country have said that private companies like YouTube and Facebook have a First Amendment right to decide what speech to allow on their platforms.
Paxton recently urged Chesney to either dismiss the lawsuit or transfer it to Texas. He argued in court papers filed late last month that his probe centers on whether Twitter violated a state consumer protection law by misrepresenting its editorial policies.
“Even if Twitter has a First Amendment right to choose discriminatory content-moderation policies, the Constitution does not empower it to mislead consumers about those policies,” Paxton wrote.
He also says Twitter's request for an injunction is premature, given that he hasn't yet attempted to force the company to comply with his demand for information.
Twitter counters in its new papers that the investigation in itself violates the First Amendment because it could have a “chilling effect” on the company's exercise of its free speech rights.
“Under settled law, the First Amendment bars the state from telling a newspaper which editorials it must run,” Twitter writes. “The First Amendment therefore likewise bars the state from telling Twitter whose speech it must carry and distribute on its platform.”
The company adds: “Retaliatory investigations -- designed to punish protected activity and to obtain the same editorial influence through threats and intimidation --also violate the First Amendment, and should be enjoined.”
The legal battle has outside interest from groups including the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Internet Association, which both weighed in on Twitter's side.
Chesney is scheduled to hold a hearing on the matter on May 7.