A federal judge has granted the Obama administration permission to require internet service providers to remove advertisements from websites that promote certain political causes.
The decision is a victory for civil liberties advocates and for companies that have challenged the constitutionality of the Obama-era online advertising rules that have been widely criticized as discriminatory against conservatives and the left.
The Department of Justice filed suit against several major online advertising companies, including Yahoo and Google, in February.
The ruling from U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest in San Francisco comes as the Obama Administration continues to fight to protect the controversial online advertising rule, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama last month.
The government is seeking to compel Internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon to remove a range of ads from its website and other social media platforms, including from a website run by the liberal nonprofit Public Citizen, which bills itself as “the nation’s largest grassroots organization working to stop the rise of the so-called Koch brothers.”
The court ruling could set the stage for similar litigation against conservative and liberal-leaning websites run by other advocacy groups.
A key part of the rule, signed by President Obama, allows for the blocking of websites that have displayed “false or misleading” political messages and that have posted “inaccurate or misleading information” about an upcoming election.
The White House has argued that the rules are needed to combat the rise in online harassment, which the Obama White House said is fueled by misinformation and disinformation spread by the right-wing groups.
The rules were originally designed to target the “extremist, hateful, and virulently anti-democratic” political groups known as “dark web” groups that operate on websites that host illegal filesharing sites, as well as websites hosting extremist political content.
But the Obama Justice Department, in a brief to Forrest, said it is “well within its authority” to enforce the rules with respect to other websites.
The White House argues that the Obama policies have been broadly upheld by courts across the country.
Forrest wrote that she found the Obama campaign’s assertion that the campaign’s website was a “false flag” to be “extremely defensible.”
In her ruling, Forrest said that the “content and messaging” on the website were “likely” to cause the ads to appear.
She added that the websites’ content “may also be harmful to legitimate political speech,” and that the government must consider whether they pose a “significant risk of substantial harm.”
The ruling could also open the door for other online advertising providers, such as Google and Facebook, to sue to block the websites.
Google, Facebook and other companies have filed similar lawsuits in recent years, claiming the rules violate their First Amendment rights to free speech.
The case was filed by two groups, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and Americans for the First Amendment.
It was the second time the Obama Department has sought to block websites, saying it had been unable to reach a settlement with one of them.