Siding against Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and other vaccine critics, a federal judge rejected a request to order Senator Elizabeth Warren to retract a critical letter she wrote to Amazon about the book The Truth About COVID-19.
In a ruling issued Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Rothstein in Seattle said Kennedy and the others are unlikely to prevail with their claim that Warren violated the First Amendment by attempting to suppress speech.
The decision grew out of a lawsuit filed in November over a letter sent by Warren to Amazon chief Andy Jassy. In that letter, dated September 7, Warren accused Amazon of contributing to the spread of false claims about the virus by algorithmically promoting the book.
Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, wrote that the top search result on Amazon for the terms “COVID-19” and “vaccine” was The Truth About COVID-19: Exposing the Great Reset, Lockdowns, Vaccine Passports, and the New Normal, which she said “perpetuates dangerous conspiracies about COVID-19 and false and misleading information about vaccines.”
Warren also urged Jassy to review Amazon's algorithms, report on whether they recommended books with incorrect information about COVID-19 and, if so, develop a plan to modify them.
Book authors Robert Mercola and Ronnie Cummins, along with Kennedy (who wrote a forward to the book), and Chelsea Green Publishing (which published the book), alleged that Warren unconstitutionally attempted to suppress the book.
They argued the book is protected by the First Amendment, and that Warren's letter implicitly threatened Amazon with legal repercussions for continuing to sell the material.
Kennedy and the others sought an order requiring Warren to publicly retract her letter, as well as monetary damages.
The complaint against Warren drew on other cases, including Backpage.com's successful First Amendment lawsuit against Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart -- who attempted to pressure Visa and Mastercard from providing services to the (now defunct) online classifieds site, due to its thinly veiled prostitution ads. Six years ago, a federal appellate panel in Illinois issued an injunction prohibiting Dart from trying to influence the financial companies' dealings with Backpage.com.
But legal experts said Backpage's First Amendment claims against Dart appeared to be stronger the vaccine critics' claims against Amazon -- mainly because Dart, unlike Warren, was a law enforcement officer.
Rothstein wrote in Monday's ruling that Warren lacks "unilateral investigative authority” and is “far removed from the power to legally punish booksellers for continuing to sell The Truth About COVID-19.”
“The threat of legal sanctions can act as an unlawful restriction on speech, but a threat will only be perceived as such if there is a realistic chance the threatened action can be carried out,” Rothstein wrote.
She added that Kennedy and the others likely won't be able to prove that booksellers “reasonably perceived” Warren's letter as a threat.