Why the Florida and Texas Social Media Laws Violate the Takings Clause
Yesterday, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld Texas’ law banning major social media websites from using most forms of content moderation. The decision is at odds with a recent Eleventh Circuit ruling striking down Florida’s similar law (written by prominent conservative Trump appointee Judge Kevin Newsom). In May, the Supreme Court signaled that at least five justices believe the law to be unconstitutional, when it overturned a previous Fifth Circuit ruling lifting a trial court injunction against implementation of the Texas law. For reasons I summarized here, I agree with the Eleventh Circuit’s approach, and believe the Texas and Florida laws violate the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech. In this post, I argue that these laws also violate the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment.
The Takings Clause bars government from taking “private property” without paying “just compensation.” In its 2021 ruling in Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid, the Supreme Court ruled (correctly, in my view) that even a temporary government-mandated “physical occupation” or invasion of private property counts as a per se taking, automatically requiring compensation. Thus, the Court struck down a California law requiring agricultural growers to grant access to their property to union organizers. The Court emphasized that “[t]he right to exclude is universally held to be a fundamental element of the property right,” and that violations of that right presumptively qualify as takings.
The Florida and Texas social media laws are also blatant attacks on the right to exclude. No one doubts that the Twitter site and its various features are Twitter’s private property. And the whole point of the Florida and Texas law is force Twitter and other social media firms to grant access to users and content the firms would prefer to exclude, particularly various right-wing users. Just as the plaintiffs in Cedar Point wanted to bar union organizers from their land, so Twitter wishes to bar some content it finds abhorrent (or that might offend or annoy other users).
To be sure, there are obvious differences between virtual property, such as a website, and more conventional physical property, like that involved in the Cedar Point case. But the Taking Clause nonetheless applies to both. If Texas decided to seize the Twitter site, bar current users, and instead fill it with content praising the state government’s policies, that would pretty obviously be a taking, much like if California decided to seize the Cedar Point tree nursery’s land. In the same way, requiring Twitter to host unwanted content qualifies as an occupation of its property, no less than requiring a landowner to give access to unwanted entrants. The Supreme Court has previously ruled that intellectual property is protected by the Takings Clause. Websites present similar issues.
One could argue that
Article from Reason.com