A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that it is not illegal for a news outlet to publish fake news and other “false and misleading information” about President Donald Trump, ending a long legal battle over a sweeping campaign-finance reform bill.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati said the ban is unconstitutional and violates free speech rights.
“The Constitution is not a gag order for reporters, nor is it a shield for political speech,” Judge Thomas Griffiths wrote in his ruling.
“A person who is a journalist and a commentator who has published a news story on this subject can be punished for false and misleading statements made about the president.”
The ruling is a blow to the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit against Trump’s administration, and the media watchdog Freedom of the Press Foundation, which challenged the measure.
The Justice Department and Trump’s transition team did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Griffiths, a Republican, was appointed by President George W. Bush and served as the top federal judge overseeing the case.
He was a prominent voice in the court’s conservative majority, and he sided with the Obama administration in opposing Trump’s bid to overturn the law in a landmark court case in 2015.
He also was a judge on the D.C. Circuit in the Obama era and was the first to block Trump’s effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
The law, known as Obamacare, was passed in 2010 and expanded on the work of President Barack Obama’s health care law.
The lawsuit filed by the liberal advocacy group Public Citizen and the liberal news organization Media Matters, argued that the law is so broad that it could ban news outlets from the First Amendment.
The Supreme Court upheld the law earlier this year.
The judge’s decision comes in response to a complaint from a news organization that was not part of the suit, CNN.
The organization said it was not able to obtain a waiver under federal law that would allow it to publish information about Trump and the new measure.
In a brief filed in court, the group said it does not believe Trump is violating the law because the ban only applies to news coverage of the president.
“We have received no assurance that the administration has not already used the executive order to impose restrictions on the press,” the brief said.
The group also noted that the order does not apply to any news coverage by news organizations that do not include commentary, and that some of the outlets were operating under a gag rule barring the reporting of their news and editorial content.
CNN reported on the ruling, saying the news organization is considering its next steps.