A federal judge has rejected Twitter's request for an order prohibiting Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton from pursuing his investigation into the company's content-moderation practices.
In a ruling issued Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Maxine Chesney in the Northern District of California said Twitter's challenge to Paxton's investigation is “premature,” given that Paxton lacks the authority to sanction Twitter for failing to comply with his probe.
The decision stems from a dispute dating to March, when Twitter alleged in a federal complaint 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 launched an investigation of the tech companies' move, and demanded that Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon Web Services and Apple provide him with detailed information regarding their editorial policies. Paxton 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.
Twitter argued to Chesney that Paxton's investigation violated the First Amendment, contending that the probe 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 said in papers filed last month. “The First Amendment therefore likewise bars the state from telling Twitter whose speech it must carry and distribute on its platform.”
Outside groups including the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Internet Association weighed in on Twitter's side.
Paxton urged Chesney to dismiss Twitter's complaint for several reasons, including that it was premature.
After the ruling came down, a Twitter spokesperson reiterated the company's view that Paxton "is misusing the powers of his office to infringe on Twitter’s fundamental rights in an attempt to silence free speech."
"Although we disagree with some aspects of the court's findings, we’ll continue working to advance our principles and defend the open internet," the spokesperson added.
Several years ago, Google fought a similar legal battle with Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, who was attempting to investigate copyright infringement by companies that appear in Google's search results.
Google sought a court order prohibiting Hood from continuing with his investigation.
A federal district court judge sided with Google in 2015 and granted the injunction, writing that the company's decisions about what to display in search results was constitutionally protected.
But a federal appellate court lifted the injunction in 2016, ruling that it was issued prematurely because Google went to court before Hood attempted to enforce his demands for information.