A law in California that allowed punishment of doctors for sharing alleged “misinformation” about COVID has been blocked by a federal judge.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge William Shubb declared Assembly Bill 2098 unconstitutional. The bill was signed into law by Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom in September.
According to Shubb, the definition of misinformation is unclear and could lead to unfair enforcement. Therefore, the provision is unconstitutional due to its vagueness. The plaintiffs have shown that they are likely to win their challenges on this basis.
In Hoeg v. Newsom, a group of five doctors claimed that the law violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Another lawsuit, Hoang v. Bonta, raised similar concerns. The law became effective on January 1.
The message mentioned that COVID misinformation refers to false information that goes against current scientific agreement. It also stated that doctors are not allowed to share incorrect or deceptive details regarding COVID-19, including its dangers, avoidance, treatment, and the safety and usefulness of its vaccines.
While any legal appeal seeks to overturn the ruling, the law has been suspended by the court’s decision. The New Civil Liberties Alliance (NCLA), a nonpartisan and nonprofit civil rights group representing the five doctors involved in the case, celebrated the court ruling and issued a statement.
Jenin Younces, litigation counsel for NCLA, stated that they are pleased with Judge Shubb’s decision to acknowledge that AB 2098 creates an unattainable standard for doctors in California to abide by. This bill aims to penalize doctors who provide patients with information that contradicts the current scientific consensus on Covid, which would effectively silence physicians who hold dissenting views from the state’s established beliefs.
“He must have issued his decision quickly because of the constitutional problems that the law poses and the potential negative impact on doctor-patient relationships,” he added.
The legislation was criticized by Greg Dolin, who is the senior litigation counsel for NCLA. He said that the Act was an attempt to silence doctors who have contrary views based on scientific research which are not approved by the government. The State of California has not defined the permissible and impermissible speech, which highlights the issues with the statute. The Court recognized the problems with AB2098 and stopped this unconstitutional law, which NCLA is pleased about.
Dr. Aaron Keriaty, who is part of the lawsuit, shared his approval of the decision on Twitter. He believes the ruling supports their case and suggests that their argument about the law’s unconstitutionality is strong even before the trial.
Dr. Tracy Hoeg, another plaintiff in the case, expressed in the lawsuit that she fears sharing information with her patients that is in line with current scientific literature but may not be accepted by the California Medical Board. She believes that physicians must be able to speak truthfully with their patients in order to gain and maintain their trust.