In SIG Sauer v. Bagnell, a New Hampshire firearms manufacturer is suing a Connecticut lawyer who represents people in lawsuits against the manufacturer. In or around 2021, the lawyer created a video animation depicting what he alleges to be a manufacturing defect in a SIG pistol. SIG claims that the animation is misleading and contains falsehoods, and sued the lawyer for displaying the animation on his website and/or YouTube.
After filing suit, SIG asked for a court order (a preliminary injunction) forbidding Bagnell from showing the animation to anyone outside of a court proceeding until SIG's lawsuit concludes. The First Amendment generally forbids courts to issue such preliminary orders, because they require courts to guess whether certain speech (here, the animation) is defamatory before the parties have a chance to fully litigate that question.
The national ACLU, ACLU Foundation of Connecticut, and ACLU of New Hampshire filed a friend of the court brief arguing that SIG's request for a preliminary injunction should be denied because it would violate the First Amendment right to free speech. The brief takes no position on what kind of relief might be appropriate if SIG ultimately wins the lawsuit, but solely focuses on the dangers of a court restraining speech during litigation.
The type of censorship that SIG seeks is often known as “prior restraint” – when the government prevents someone from publishing information. For example, former President Donald Trump attempted to prevent a former advisor from publishing a memoir, and in the 1970s, the Nixon administration tried (and failed) to use prior restraint to prevent newspapers from publishing the Pentagon Papers, which detailed U.S military action in Vietnam.
People have a right to speak out about large corporations, and the government should not be allowed to censor people from publishing information that has not been ruled illegal.