Yelp Asks Court To Stop Texas AG Ken Paxton From Suing Them For Warning Users That Crisis Pregnancy Centers Are Scams
from the fucking-hypocrite dept
To hear Texas legislators (and the 5th Circuit) view the world, it is apparently wholly unconstitutional to share information from the government with websites in any manner that might pressure them in how they moderate, yet at the same time, the government is absolutely free to compel companies to post messages that they want on websites… and, apparently, now to force companies NOT to post messages that they don’t want.
How do you square all this? You don’t, unless the fundamental principle is “it’s okay when the GOP does it, and not okay when Democrats do it.” But if anyone is claiming that Texas and the 5th Circuit are embracing free speech, they’re stupid or lying.
The latest example of this blatant hypocrisy/authoritarian “it’s okay when we do it” tendency comes as (still indicted) Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sending a threat letter to Yelp demanding that Yelp no longer accurately describe “crisis pregnancy centers” as venues that do not provide abortions.
As you may recall, anti-choice activists have been setting up bullshit “crisis pregnancy centers” around the country as a sneaky and underhanded way to trick pregnant women who think they’re going to get advice on all their options (including abortion) to basically be put in a high pressure environment designed to talk them out of abortion.
There has been tremendous controversy over these centers, and a war of words from both sides of the political aisle. Democrats have complained about Google and Yelp directing people to these CPCs when they’re looking for abortion providers, and Republicans have been threatening companies for accurately explaining the realities of CPCs.
Back in February, still indicted Texas AG Ken Paxton sent a threat letter to Yelp proving that he does not (even a tiny bit) care about free speech. In that letter he complained about the message that Yelp posted when someone looked at the page for a CPC. The message from Yelp warned people that such CPCs provided very limited services and might not have actual medical professionals on site.
The proper response from Yelp would have been to tell Paxton to take his censorial demand and shove it, but instead they decided to modify their warning in the hope that it might appease the still indicted attorney general of Texas. The new warning just notes that these CPCs do not offer abortions or abortion related services.
This is entirely accurate information and Yelp has a 1st Amendment right to post what it wants here.
But not according to the censorial Ken Paxton who sent another complaint letter to Yelp about the new warning. And, in response, Yelp has now gone to court in California (where it is based) to have the court tell Paxton to stop this clear violation of Yelp’s 1st Amendment rights.
This lawsuit seeks to prevent Defendant Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (“Attorney General”) from punishing Plaintiff Yelp Inc. (“Yelp”) for publishing truthful information about businesses that offer pregnancy-related counseling to the public. See Ex. 1. The Attorney General—who disagrees with the decision to publish this information—has announced his intent to sue Yelp, as soon as September 29, for stating that crisis pregnancy centers “typically provide limited medical services and may not have licensed medical professionals onsite.” This threat targets truthful speech fully protected by the First Amendment, which Yelp months ago replaced with a notice that even the Attorney General admits is “accurate.” Yelp seeks declaratory and injunctive relief to prevent the further violation of its rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
As the complaint notes, Paxton himself has admitted that the label Yelp has put on CPC pages is “accurate” but that he still thinks the company should be punished. And, to be clear, even if the statements were not accurate, with certain limitations, Yelp still has a 1st Amendment right to post messages it wants on its platform without interference from government officials.
In February 2023, the Attorney General signed a letter demanding Yelp remove its original notice about crisis pregnancy centers, claiming the notice was misleading. Although the previous notice was truthful and not misleading, Yelp updated the notice to state that “Crisis Pregnancy Centers do not offer abortions or referrals to abortion providers.” The Attorney General has publicly conceded that this statement is “accurate,” but still intends to punish Yelp using his authority to prosecute allegedly deceptive trade practices.
The First Amendment bars that action. The Attorney General may not punish Yelp for publishing truthful information, Bartnicki v. Vopper, 532 U.S. 514, 527-28 (2001), including truthful consumer information, Va. State Bd. of Pharm. v. Va. Citizens Consumer Council, Inc., 425 U.S. 748, 770-73 (1976). Such “[o]fficial reprisal for protected speech” is especially pernicious because it “threatens to inhibit the exercise” of free expression in the future. Hartman v. Moore, 547 U.S. 250, 256 (2006) (cleaned up).
Yelp requests an order declaring the Attorney General’s threatened prosecution unconstitutional; finding that Yelp’s publication of the original crisis pregnancy center notice did not violate the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (Tex. Bus. & Comm. Code § 17.46); enjoining the Attorney General from prosecuting Yelp or taking any other action to in any way penalize Yelp for exercising its free speech rights; and awarding Yelp its attorneys’ fees for having to file this action to vindicate those rights.
The complaint details that Paxton had threatened to sue Yelp over these accurate labels:
The Attorney General mailed Yelp a letter dated September 22, 2023 providing “notice of intent to file suit against Yelp, Inc.” (cleaned up) having “concluded that Yelp . . . violated” the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act by publishing the original (and since updated) Consumer Notice. See Ex. 1 at 1. The letter states that the Attorney General is authorized to file suit within “seven days.” Id. at 1; see also Tex. Bus. & Com. Code § 17.47(a) (requiring sevendays’ notice before filing suit). The letter warns that the Attorney General is authorized to seek “civil penalties of up to $10,000.00 per violation” as well as “attorneys’ fees,” among other penalties. Id. at 1. Notably, the letter does not confine its threat to Yelp’s “violations” in Texas, but seeks to punish editorial choices—made by a California company—globally.
Again, this is all culture war censorial nonsense from the authoritarian-loving, indicted Ken Paxton, who just narrowly survived being removed from office after being impeached in the Texas legislature.
His threat is clearly a violation of the 1st Amendment. Way more than any other I can think of in recent history, and very clearly and obviously significantly more so than anything the White House has done regarding social media these days.
So, again, I’d love for those defending Texas’ social media law or the recent rulings regarding White House jawboning to explain how they can possibly believe that Texas and Paxton are not doing significantly worse here. I mean, I’m sure you can come up with some nonsense, but just recognize there is no way it won’t make me laugh at how hypocritical you are.