A federal judge on Monday fully blocked the Trump administration's attempt to ban TikTok in the U.S., the latest defeat in the White House's legal crusade against the video-sharing app.
U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols in Washington found that Trump overstepped his authority in using his emergency economic powers to try to effectively put the wildly popular app out of business. He was the second judge to rule against the president's ban.
Lawyers for TikTok demonstrated that Trump officials' "failure to adequately consider an obvious and reasonable alternative before banning TikTok" renders the crackdown against the app "arbitrary and capricious," wrote Nichols, who is a Trump appointee.
Citing a threat to national security, Trump's Commerce Department had sought to prevent the app from being downloaded in app stores and attempted to outlaw transactions between Americans and TikTok's Chinese parent company, ByteDance.
Those sanctions were already blocked in October by another federal judge after TikTok influencers brought a lawsuit in Pennsylvania. The Trump administration has appealed.
Nichols wrote that in the event that the Trump administration prevails on appeal in that case, his injunction would remain in order to prevent users from leaving TikTok en masse for a competing app, something that the judge wrote would exact "irreparable harm" on TikTok.
Popular for its dance challenge videos and other ridiculous footage that tends to go rapidly viral online, the app has also been used for anti-Trump activism and widely used to ridicule and lampoon the president.
White House officials have targeted TikTok over its Beijing ownership.
According to Trump officials, U.S. user data is at risk of being accessed by Chinese authorities because of the close ties the authoritarian regime has with private business in the country.
U.S. user data is mostly stored by TikTok on servers in Virginia, with backup storage in Singapore. Company officials say Chinese authorities have never attempted to gain access to Americans' information.
White House officials have contended, without evidence, that TikTok could be used as a Chinese spy tool.
Still, well before the Trump administration moved to shut it down, the company had been undergoing a national security review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., an interagency panel that reviews companies operating in the U.S. with overseas ownership.
One proposal that emerged as part of that process would have put American software company Oracle in charge of all U.S. user data, an agreement that is still being hammered out by a number of interested parties.
Despite talks aimed at safeguarding U.S. user data being hashed out in a separate process, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross continued to push for TikTok to be blacklisted in the U.S.
"Here, the Secretary did not consider any alternatives before effectively banning TikTok from the United States, nor did the Secretary articulate any justification (rational or otherwise) for failing to consider any such alternatives," Nichols wrote on Monday.
The Trump administration has several times pushed back the deadline for TikTok's corporate owner to sell its U.S. operations.
It had until Dec. 4 to reach a deal. Trump officials will not be offering yet another extension, but sources close to the process say the Justice Department is declining to enforce TikTok technically being in violation of a presidential order.
A TikTok spokesperson said company is pleased with the latest court victory, saying: "We're focused on continuing to build TikTok as the home that 100 million Americans, including families and small businesses, rely upon for expression, connection, economic livelihood, and true joy."