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Twitter filed a lawsuit against Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a California federal court Monday and asked a judge to halt the state’s top lawyer from investigating the company.
The social media giant’s court filings include a request for a temporary restraining order that would keep Paxton and his office from enforcing a demand that seeks documents revealing the company’s internal decision making processes for banning users, among other things.
Paxton, a fervent supporter of former President Donald Trump, sent the company a civil investigative demand after it banned Trump from its platform following January’s deadly siege at the U.S. Capitol.
Twitter wrote that it seeks to stop Paxton from “from unlawfully abusing his authority as the highest law-enforcement officer of the State of Texas to intimidate, harass, and target Twitter in retaliation for Twitter’s exercise of its First Amendment rights.” The company claimed Paxton’s “retaliatory” investigation violated the First Amendment as an inappropriate use of government authority.
A spokesperson for Paxton did not immediately respond for comment.
Before Democratic President Joe Biden's inauguration, Paxton filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the election results in four battleground states. It was considered a long shot, but drew support from the Republican attorneys general of 17 other states before the U.S. Supreme Court briskly rejected it.
The attorney general is among Texas Republican leaders who have launched a campaign against technology and social media companies after officials and followers faced repercussions for sowing the election doubts that fueled the Capitol insurrection.
Twitter is one of five tech and social media firms to which Paxton issued civil investigative demands to learn about the procedures such companies use to regulate postings or user accounts.
Paxton, who attended the rally that preceded the attack on the U.S. Capitol, criticized companies’ moves after the siege, which included Twitter banning Trump from its platform.
“The seemingly coordinated de-platforming of the President of the United States and several leading voices not only chills free speech, it wholly silences those whose speech and political beliefs do not align with leaders of Big Tech companies,” Paxton said in a Jan. 13 news release.
Last week, Gov. Greg Abbott touted Texas legislation that seeks to crack down on social media companies' perceived censorship of conservative voices. Senate Bill 12 would prohibit social media companies — including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — from blocking, banning, demonetizing, or otherwise discriminating against a user based on their viewpoint or their location within Texas.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Texas Senate, has identified the bill as one of his 31 priorities for this legislative session. State Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, is sponsoring the measure. He filed a similar bill in 2019 that won Senate approval, but died in committee in the state House.
In its filings Monday, Twitter detailed their suspension of multiple accounts, including Trump’s personal account, which they banned for his false claims about the presidential election and the Jan. 6 attacks on the U.S. Capitol. Five days after the president’s Twitter account was suspended on Jan. 8, Paxton issued the civil investigative demands to Twitter and four other tech and social media firms.
In the lawsuit, Twitter said while the company “strives for transparency,” the public disclosure of such documents would “compromise Twitter’s ability to effectively and efficiently moderate content on its platform.”
Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms have come under fire for enabling misinformation spread and propagating violence like the Jan. 6 attacks. Last year, Democratic lawmakers presented a Congressional bill that would hold social media companies accountable for amplifying such content, but the proposal gained little traction.
Twitter’s suit comes as Paxton faces a series of other legal issues, including claims of abuse of office and bribery. Former aides allege the attorney general used his power to assist an Austin real estate developer with legal matters after he helped Paxton remodel his house and employed a woman with whom Paxton allegedly had an affair. The whistleblowers’ allegations have reportedly sparked an FBI investigation.
Four of the former aides claim they were fired in retaliation for telling authorities they believed Paxton had done illegal favors for a political donor and are suing. During a March 1 whistleblower hearing, which Paxton did not attend, lawyers representing his office argued Paxton is not a public employee and cannot be sued under the Texas Whistleblower Act. The attorney general has previously dismissed the claims against him as “false allegations” from “rogue employees.”