Google’s Big SCOTUS Season

Sundar Pichai
Google C.E.O. Sundar Pichai. Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images
Eriq Gardner
October 3, 2022

On Monday, the Supreme Court announced the results of its “long conference,” the beginning-of-term vote-a-rama where the justices sift through the hundreds of petitions that have piled up through the summer. The high court rejected quite a few of the cases I had been following, including Scientology’s bid to force a Danny Masterson accuser into arbitration, Charles Harder’s latest attempt to make it easier for libel plaintiffs, and David Lowery’s efforts to get the justices to examine “cy pres,” that is, class action settlement money that goes to third-party charities instead of individuals whose injuries are being addressed. 

Lowery, oddly enough, was the founder of the bands Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, the latter of which was briefly famous for the early-90s song “Low,” which featured Sandra Bernhard in its music video. In his later life, he’s become an advocate of sorts, filing suits against Spotify and Napster. More recently, he objected to Google settling a privacy class action by giving settlement money to those who took the tech giant’s side against him on copyright controversies. He, as a class member, feels he shouldn’t have to subsidize this. While Lowery fell short, the Supreme Court did take up another case that potentially puts a thumb in Google’s eye.

In Reynaldo Gonzalez v. Google, the Supreme Court will finally get into the weeds of the Communications Decency Act. Section 230, of course, is the controversial provision that allows for interactive service providers to moderate content without being held liable for what its users post—in layman’s terms, it’s the law that legally immunizes the tech giants from the worst content on their platforms. Section 230 was written before any of us, besides maybe a few on Sand Hill Road, could quite grasp the transformative nature of the Internet. And while many politicians hate the law, it’s incredibly hard to agree on a replacement. Critics on the right believe it encourages censorship. Critics on the left believe it disincentives stronger moderation of disinformation. Untold lobbying dollars feed the divide.