A ban on TikTok’s app in the state of Montana, enacted earlier this year, is now on hold. On Thursday, a U.S. federal judge in the state temporarily blocked the ban from going live, claiming it was unconstitutional and an overstep of state power. Specifically, the court ruled that the ban likely violated the First Amendment as well as a clause that gives Congress the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations.
Montana Governor Greg Gianforte first signed into law the U.S.’s strictest restriction on the social video app in May of this year, saying the law would protect Montanans’ personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party. TikTok is operated by ByteDance, a Beijing-based operation, though now its U.S. user data is housed on Oracle servers in the U.S.
Shortly thereafter, TikTok sued Montana over the new law arguing that it violated the Constitution and that the state was overstepping by legislating matters of national security. TikTok asked the court for an injunction on the ban, while the case was argued in court. In addition, five TikTok creators separately sued Montana arguing the ban violated their First Amendment rights.
After hearing arguments from both sides, the judge agreed with TikTok and blocked the ban from going live for the time being.
In the court’s opinion issued alongside the injunction, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy wrote that despite Montana’s framing of the law as one focused on consumer protection, there was “little doubt that Montana’s legislature and Attorney General were more interested in targeting China’s ostensible role in TikTok than with protecting Montana consumers.”
In addition, the judge added that the ban “likely violates the First Amendment” as it targets speech. Not only would TikTok potentially suffer “irreparable harm” from the ban, so would creators, the judge noted. “In shutting off TikTok, the Legislature has both harmed User Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights and cut off a stream of income on which many rely. Thus, Plaintiffs have established a likelihood of irreparable harm,” he wrote.
A similar argument about creator income streams was used to block the Trump administration’s ban on TikTok back in 2020 after creators filed a lawsuit arguing they would lose access to their followers and their income.
Had the Montana TikTok ban gone live on January 1, 2024, it would have imposed a $10,000 fine on either TikTok or the app stores each time a user accessed TikTok, or was offered the ability to download TikTok. A fine of an additional $10,000 would be added for each day the violation continued. The ban will now be on hold until a final determination on the merits of TikTok’s claims is made in court.
“We are pleased the judge rejected this unconstitutional law and hundreds of thousands of Montanans can continue to express themselves, earn a living, and find community on TikTok,” a TikTok spokesperson said, in a statement about the injunction.