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Injunction halts Walker Montgomery Protecting Children Online Act from taking effect

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune.

  • The U.S. District Judge notes the good intentions behind the new law but says NetChoice has “carried its burden of showing a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of its claim.”

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi has granted an injunction in the case challenging the new law known as the “Walker Montgomery Protecting Children Online Act.”

Mississippi lawmakers passed the legislation this year in unanimous bipartisan votes in both chambers. It requires social media platforms to make reasonable efforts to prevent or mitigate children’s exposure to potentially harmful content while using the platforms. Governor Tate Reeves (R) signed the bill in late April and it was set to take effect on Monday, July 1.

READ MORE: Mississippi legislation seeks to protect children, teens from online predators

The case – NetChoice v. Fitch – stems from the trade association’s challenge to the new Mississippi law that claims the legislation violates citizens’ constitutionally protected rights, endangers their online privacy and security, and thwarts their rights to make decisions for their family as they deem appropriate.

The U.S. District Court granted the preliminary injunction as the case moves forward, stating that NetChoice’s challenge has “carried its burden of showing a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of it claim.”

“In sum, because the Court finds that Plaintiff NetChoice, LLC has carried its burden of showing a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of its claim that the Act is unconstitutional under a First Amendment facial challenge and, alternatively, a Fourteenth Amendment vagueness challenge, it will grant the Motion for a Preliminary Injunction without requiring security,” wrote Judge Halil Suleyman Ozerden.

Judge Ozerden went on to write that it is not lost on the Court the seriousness of the issue the legislature was attempting to address, “nor does the Court doubt the good intentions behind the enactment of H.B. 1126.”

“But as the Supreme Court has held, ‘[a] law that is content based on its face is subject to strict scrutiny regardless of the government’s benign motive,” Ozerden states. “That is a high bar, which at this preliminary stage of the proceedings, Plaintiff has shown the Act likely does not meet.”

As such, Attorney General Lynn Fitch and her office is preliminarily enjoined from enforcing the new law against NetChoice and its members, which include Amazon; Google, owner of YouTube; Snap Inc., the parent company of SnapChat; Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram; Netflix; X; and other prominent online platforms.

Chris Marchese, Director of the NetChoice Litigation Center, expressed his pleasure with the injunction, saying an “unconstitutional law will protect no one.”

“We’re pleased the court sided with the First Amendment and stopped Mississippi’s law from censoring online speech, limiting access to lawful information and undermining user privacy and security as our case proceeds,” said Marchese. “We look forward to seeing the law struck down permanently.” 

Marchese said if the law was to take effect, it would mandate age and identity verification for digital services which undermines privacy and stifles the free exchange of ideas.

Attorney Fitch told Magnolia Tribune late Monday that her office will continue to fight for the commonsense law.

“We appreciate the court’s thoughtful and speedy review of this matter, but respectfully disagree that the Constitution blocks the State’s effort to protect children online,” Fitch said. “We will continue to fight for this commonsense law because our children’s mental health, physical security, and innocence should not take a back seat to Big Tech profits.”

As previously reported, the new law was authored by State Rep. Jill Ford in response to the tragic death of 16-year-old Walker Montgomery of Starkville after someone he met online asked for money. When Montgomery said no, the online predator threatened to release a sexually explicit video of him. After continued pressure by the predator, Montgomery took his own life in 2022. Following an investigation which included assistance from the FBI, it was revealed that the individuals preying on the teen were overseas. Other instances of predatory activity on minors in the area were also reported.

You can read the full order from Judge Ozerden here

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Read original article by clicking here.

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