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Tipsheet

California's Medical Misinformation Law Struck Down

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

So far, California has shown to be turning an even deeper corner in 2023. On January 1, several far-left laws went into effect. The state also made headlines last week, as Matt covered, for its new tax policies. There has, however, been some relief. Perhaps one of those most worrisome laws mentioned above included a law that punished physicians for so-called medical misinformation about COVID-19, which was blocked late last week.

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According to a report from Reuters' Brendan Pierson:

Senior U.S. District Judge William Shubb in Sacramento ruled on Wednesday that Assembly Bill 2098, which was signed last October by California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, was too vague for doctors to know what kind of statements might put them at risk of being penalized."COVID-19 is a quickly evolving area of science that in many aspects eludes consensus," he wrote.

The preliminary order means that the law cannot be enforced while Shubb hears two lawsuits brought against the law shortly after its passage last year - one by a group of five doctors, and another by a doctor and two advocacy groups including Robert F. Kennedy Jr's Children's Health Defense, which has long promoted false information about standard childhood vaccines.

The law, known as Assembly Bill 2098, which was signed into law last October, required medical licensing boards in the state to take disciplinary action against physicians who were involved in so-called "dissemination or misinformation or disinformation" related to COVID-19.

Doctors found violating the law wouldn't just be faced with a slap on the wrist. A report from The New York Time's Steven Lee Myers noted that expanding medical licensing boards in such a way "could lead to a suspension or revocation of a doctor’s license to practice in the state."

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As Pierson's report mentioned, that misinformation was defined as "false information that is contradicted by contemporary scientific consensus contrary to the standard of care."

The law certainly had chilling effects on free speech, as Jacob Sullum highlighted in a column from last November, but it also did not provide enough clarity as to what could get doctors into trouble.

Pierson’s report also added statements from those blasting this aspect of the law:

"This Act is a blatant attempt to silence doctors whose views, though based on thorough scientific research, deviate from the government-approved 'party line,'" said Greg Dolin of the New Civil Liberties Alliance, a lawyer for the doctors, in a statement. "At no point has the State of California been able to articulate the line between permissible and impermissible speech."

The doctors said in their lawsuit that the law gave them no way to know what was "contemporary scientific consensus," and violated their right to free speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed briefs supporting the plaintiffs in both cases, saying that while the state did have the power to punish doctors for spreading harmful false information, AB 2098 was a "blunt instrument" that went too far.

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Senior U.S. District Judge William Shubb granted a preliminary junction on the law, which is blocked while he considers lawsuits challenging it on free speech grounds. 

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