Twitter is asking a federal appellate court for an emergency order prohibiting Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton from continuing with a probe into the company's content-moderation practices.
The probe -- initiated by Paxton soon after Twitter banned former President Donald Trump from the platform -- is already causing “irreparable harm,” the company says in new court papers.
“Twitter is continuing to suffer ongoing irreparable harm so long as it is subject to AG Paxton’s effort to use a state investigation to intimidate it into changing its content-moderation decisions,” the company writes in a motion filed late last week with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
“This explicitly retaliatory investigation has injured and continues to injure Twitter by chilling its clear First Amendment right to make its own editorial decisions -- unfettered by government threats -- about what content and which speakers may or may not appear on its platform,” Twitter adds.
The battle between Twitter and Paxton dates 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 Trump.
Twitter and other tech companies suspended Trump's accounts in early January, shortly after rioters stormed Capitol Hill.
Paxton then launched an investigation of the tech companies' move, and demanded that Twitter, Google, Facebook and others 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.”
Despite Paxton's accusation, researchers have not found any evidence to support claims that tech companies' content moderation decisions show a bias against conservative viewpoints.
Im addition, numerous judges throughout the country have said private companies like YouTube and Facebook have a First Amendment right to decide what speech to allow on their platforms.
Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Maxine Chesney in the Northern District of California dismissed Twitter's lawsuit as premature, because Paxton had not taken any steps to force Twitter to comply with his demands for information.
But Twitter says in its new motion that Paxton's investigation is in itself affecting the company's free speech rights.
“Paxton transparently retaliated for Twitter’s core First Amendment conduct -- including its editorial decision to permanently suspend President Trump’s account,” Twitter writes. “So long as AG Paxton’s investigation continues and his ... demands remain pending, Twitter will be forced to weigh the burdens of facing further intimidation tactics by government actors each time it makes an editorial determination that fails to meet AG Paxton’s preferences.”
The 9th Circuit has directed Paxton to respond by Thursday to Twitter's request for an emergency injunction.