On August 21, 2020, a federal appeals court upheld key aspects of President Donald Trump’s gag order on federal agencies. The President had issued the gag order in January 2017 as part of an executive order to prevent employees from communicating with the press or public without official authorization.
The order, known as the “touchstone for communications discipline,” prevents federal agencies from making public comments, providing information, or expressing opinions without prior approval from the White House and relevant agency heads. It also applies to any discussion of government data or scientific research, as well as any official action or policy change that could have economic or political implications.
The court ruled that the gag order is necessary for upholding presidential control over communications with the public. The judges also found that the order does not infringe on the First Amendment rights of federal employees to speak about matters of public concern.
However, the order does not apply to non-public relationships, where federal employees are free to express their opinions and engage in conversations with the press. The court also found that the order does not impede the public’s right to information, as long as the appropriate channels are used to obtain it.
The court’s decision is likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court. If the high court upholds the lower court’s ruling, it could further limit the ability of federal employees to speak out on matters of public concern.