By Katelynn Richardson
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren did not violate the First Amendment by requesting Amazon stop providing “false and misleading information” by censoring the book, “The Truth About COVID-19: Exposing the Great Reset, Lockdowns, Vaccine Passports, and the New Normal.”
Elizabeth Warren sent her letter in September 2021 after finding the book by Joseph Mercola and Ronnie Cummins, which included a forward by current presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., was displayed prominently in Amazon’s search and “Best Seller” results. The authors and their publisher sued Warren for violating their First Amendment rights, seeking a preliminary injunction requiring Warren to issue a public retraction and pull the letter from her website.
Despite finding that the plaintiffs suffered “reputational harm” from Warren’s letter, which “disparaged the book by claiming that the book perpetuated dangerous falsehoods that have led to countless deaths” and “directly impugned the professional integrity of one of the authors,” the Ninth Circuit sided with the lower court and denied their request.
“Senator Warren’s letter did not cross the constitutional line between persuasion and coercion,” the court stated.
“Elizabeth Warren, as a single Senator, had no unilateral power to penalize Amazon for promoting the book,” Judge Paul Watford wrote in his opinion. “This absence of authority influenced how a reasonable person would read her letter.”
Warren’s letter noted that “[o]ther major technology companies have recognized their role in propagating misinformation about COVID-19 and have taken steps to address the issue.”
“In response to concerns about COVID-19 misinformation on its platform, Facebook has removed pages, groups, and accounts spreading such misinformation and adjusted its algorithms to either remove misleading posts or display them less prominently,” she wrote. “…Given the seriousness of this issue, I ask that you perform an immediate review of Amazon’s algorithms and, within 14 days, provide both a public report on the extent to which Amazon’s algorithms are directing consumers to books and other products containing COVID19 misinformation and a plan to modify these algorithms so that they no longer do so.”
Judge Mark J. Bennett,, concurring in judgement, wrote separately to say that “some aspects of the letter could be interpreted as coercive by a reasonable reader.”
“Although the letter does not threaten specific consequences if Amazon failed to comply with this request; as the majority notes, we do not require a government official to list specific consequences in order to find a constitutional violation,” he wrote.
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