Nov 29, 2023 - News

Why Elon Musk's X sued Media Matters in Fort Worth, Texas (of all places)

Elon Musk keeps making headlines. Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Elon Musk's X Corp. could have filed its defamation lawsuit against Media Matters for America in Northern California, where the social media platform is headquartered. Or it could have sued in Washington, D.C., where Media Matters is located.

  • But the suit was filed in the Northern District of Texas, despite neither organization having direct ties to the region.

Why it matters: "By filing in Fort Worth, Musk's lawyers knew that they were guaranteed to draw a judge likely to be sympathetic," Stephen Vladeck, a federal courts expert at the University of Texas School of Law, tells Axios.

Driving the news: The platform formerly known as Twitter sued Media Matters for America for defamation last week after the left-leaning nonprofit released a report on ads on X running next to pro-Nazi content and helped trigger an advertiser exodus.

  • The lawsuit alleges the organization's tactics were manipulative and deceptive.

The big picture: Suing in Fort Worth meant that the suit would be heard by one of three U.S. District Judges, Reed O'Connor, Terry Means or Mark Pittman, who got the case.

  • "That's three Republican appointees, all of whom are likely to be sympathetic not just to Musk's arguments, but to Musk himself," Vladeck says.

Flashback: Last year, Pittman, who was appointed by former President Trump, struck down President Biden's plan to forgive up to $20,000 in student loan debt.

  • Pittman also struck down a Texas law that bans adults under 21 from carrying handguns in public, ruling that it was unconstitutional and inconsistent with the Second Amendment and U.S. history.

Plus: Other attorneys have pointed out that by filing in Texas, X bypasses laws in California and the District of Columbia that bar frivolous lawsuits meant to stifle public criticism.

  • "X filed this in federal court in Texas to avoid application of an anti-SLAPP statute," Ken White, a First Amendment lawyer and criminal defense attorney based in Los Angeles, wrote on the X alternative BlueSky, referring to "strategic lawsuits against public participation."

Yes, but: It's not clear that the case will be able to proceed in Fort Worth.

  • "I wouldn't be surprised at all if Media Matters argues that the Texas district court is both an improper venue and lacks what's called 'personal jurisdiction' over Media Matters," Vladeck says.
  • "It's easy to sue the federal government anywhere in the United States, hence why so many Biden policies get challenged in Texas. It's much harder to sue a random company without a significant physical presence in that state," Vladeck adds.

Of note: Musk lives in Texas and his electric vehicle company Tesla is based in Austin, but X headquarters are in San Francisco.

Meanwhile: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has said that he's "opening an investigation into Media Matters for potential fraudulent activity," noting Musk's accusation of the organization "manipulating data" on X.

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