Volokh, et al. v. LetitiaJames, Attorney General of the State of New York, No. 22-cv-10195 (S.D.N.Y.)

A legal scholar and blogger and two related internet platforms seek to enjoin enforcement of New York’s new law, effective tomorrow, December 3, 2022, that will require them to monitor content appearing on their site for “hate speech.” The plaintiffs must develop and publish a statement about “hate speech” and must not only monitor for “hate speech,” but also provide mechanisms for submission of complaints and must respond to all complaints.

Failure to comply with the state’s plan for eradication of certain disfavored speech will result in per violation per day penalties. In addition to imposing penalties for perceived non-compliance or violations of the law, the Attorney General may issue subpoenas and investigate the social media entities themselves. Plaintiffs argue that the compliance and non-compliance features of the law are unconstitutional burdens, and that the law in its entirely chills constitutionally protected speech.

Plaintiffs submit that the law unconstitutionally burdens protected speech on the basis of viewpoint and unconstitutionally compels speech. Plaintiffs object to the law as overly broad and vague, offending not only the First but also the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as established in controlling Supreme Court precedent. Moreover, plaintiffs argue that New York’s new “online hate speech” law is preempted by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. New York cannot compel the social media providers to act as publishers where the federal law precludes doing so.

The law appears to have been hastily cobbled together after a mass murder last summer said to have been racially related. While similar measures have languished in the New York legislature, the undeniably horrible losses of life provided a political moment through which New York might seek to impose speech restrictions online. No legislative findings justifying the law’s enactment were made, and many significant terms are undefined. Similarly problematic is that the law requires no intent in order for the state to impose penalties on the online platforms. The perception of one reading or seeing the online content controls whether “hate speech” exists.

At this writing, the state has not responded to the plaintiffs’ requests for injunctive and declaratory relief. The matter has been referred to a special master. No scheduling order or information concerning a hearing, if any, concerning the request for injunctive relief has been found.

Volokh v. James, No. 22-cv-10195 (S.D.N.Y.)

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