Some promising signs from the White House today, as President Biden signed executive orders reversing a number of orders issued by his predecessor, including the Trump administration’s order barring businesses and individuals from conducting many kinds of diversity training. As Jameel Jaffer and I noted in an op-ed on Monday, this was one of three Trump executive orders that especially embodied that administration's intolerance for free speech values.
We are hoping the new administration acts quickly to rescind two others as well—the order targeting social media platforms after they added fact-checking labels to Trump’s deceptive statements, and one imposing sanctions on staff of the International Criminal Court as well as on scholars and advocates who work with the court. These, too, violate the First Amendment by imposing or threatening penalties on the basis of viewpoint.
The Biden administration is also moving to address two other items on the Institute’s First Amendment Agenda for the New Administration. It has announced that it is reversing the position of the Trump administration and will resume the practice of publicly releasing White House visitor logs. And in testimony during her confirmation hearing before the Senate on Tuesday, Director of National Intelligence nominee Avril Haines declared that as DNI she would follow the law and release an unclassified report summarizing intelligence agency findings on who ordered and carried out the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Following an administration that routinely attacked the press, suppressed the voices of public servants including scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and immigration judges, and demanded that visitors to the United States turn over their social media handles in order to secure a visa, the Biden administration has much work to do to restore and strengthen First Amendment protections and values. Narrowing or rescinding restrictions on the speech of government employees and reforming the overbroad and broken prepublication review system will ensure policy debates include the perspectives of those who are often the most knowledgeable and informed. Rescinding the social media registration requirements for foreign visitors and requiring warrants for searches of laptops and electronic devices at the border are important steps toward protecting the privacy necessary for free thought and expression.
We will be pressing the Biden administration to take these and other actions in its first 100 days. We’re happy to see the president and his team are sending the right signals on Day One.
Larry Siems is the Knight Institute's chief of staff.