A group of TikTok creators filed a lawsuit to block a recently signed law banning the app from operating in Montana. The lawsuit, filed last night and announced todayalleges that Montana SB 419 is an unconstitutional and overly broad infringement of his right to free speech.
“Montana does not have the authority to enact laws that advance what it believes should be the foreign policy of the United States or its national security interests, nor can Montana prohibit an entire forum of communication based on its perception that any speech shared to through that forum, though protected by the First Amendment, is dangerous.” says the suit, brought to you by the Davis Wright Tremaine Law Firm. “Montana cannot prohibit its residents from viewing or posting on TikTok any more than it could Wall Street Journal because of who owns it or because of the ideas it publishes”.
Davis Wright Tremaine was behind a similar lawsuit filed by TikTok users in 2020 after then-President Donald Trump issued an executive order banning the ByteDance-owned app. Trump, like Montana lawmakers, claimed that TikTok’s Chinese ownership made it a threat to national security. The successful signing secured a temporary stop to the order, which was later revoked by incoming President Joe Biden.
This week’s lawsuit attacks Montana law on several fronts. He argues that Montana is depriving Montana residents of a forum to share and receive speech, violating their First Amendment rights. It also argues that SB 419 violates the Commerce Clause by effectively restricting interstate commerce. And it says the law is overridden by federal sanctions powers.
The lawsuit defends TikTok as a way to learn about current affairs, promote local businesses and “showcase the natural beauty” of Montana, offering a counterpoint to SB 419’s claims that the app encourages dangerous stunts and promotes inappropriate content. His plaintiffs include the owner of a small Montana-based swimsuit business who gained a following on TikTok, as well as a US Marine Corps veteran, college student, rancher and comedian, all who share videos and earn money through the application.
Restricting access to apps state by state increases numerous logistical problems for TikTok, mobile app stores and users. SB 419 says that TikTok “cannot operate” within the state of Montana and that stores like the iOS App Store and the Google Play Store may not offer it for download with the risk of fines. (Users would not be penalized for accessing TikTok.) As noted in the lawsuit, Governor Greg Gianforte tried unsuccessfully to rewrite the bill to address concerns prior to signing. The law would be declared void if TikTok was spun off from Chinese ownership or if federal lawmakers passed their own ban on TikTok as the RESTRICT Act. Otherwise, it will take effect in January 2024, unless this legal challenge, or a similar one, successfully blocks the rule.