Steve Cohen, D-TN, introduces protection for public participation in politics

Marc Randazza (an attorney that specializes in First Amendment issues) informs us that one tactic that some use to squelch political opposition is to file a lawsuit, whether the lawsuit has merit or not. The idea is that the lawsuit would cause the critic to defend themselves in court, and this is expensive.

Hence, the speech and political participation is a bit freer for those who have enough money for attorney’s fees.

Though some states have laws against this practice on the books, many are nowhere near strong enough to do the job; hence the need for Steve Cohen’s bill. Randazza explains:

SLAPP suits are all-too common and are a scourge on our legal landscape. Personally, they have been good for me, as I earn a significant income by defending these kinds of suits, but as much as I love money, I love free speech more (and I’m sure that I could sell that time elsewhere). A SLAPP suit is a “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.” In other words, it is a lawsuit that some hosebag files against a critic — not because he hopes to win anything, but because the mere filing of the suit is punishment enough for the critic. Lawsuits are expensive, and when a rich douchebag has plenty of money to spend on attorneys’s fees, he can afford to sue a couple of critics, thus scaring the bejesus out of anyone else who might criticize him. […]

About half of the states have some form of legislation against this, but only California and Oregon have anti-SLAPP statutes that are worth a damn. Flori-duh’s is so watered down that it may as well only apply when a Unicorn shits on the Defendant’s lawn. However, in California and Oregon, if a Plaintiff files a lawsuit that implicates the Defendant’s First Amendment rights, the Defendant can file a “special motion to strike.” Then, the Plaintiff will need to show that his suit is not just a baseless and harassing claim. If the Plaintiff can’t do that, then the case is dismissed and the Plaintiff has to pay the Defendant’s attorneys fees.

Congressman Cohen’s bill is very similar to the California law (Cal. Code Civ. Proc. 425.16), and provides the right kind of remedies. One would think that the Republicans would line up behind this — as it provides much-needed “tort reform.” The Democrats… well, there was a time when the Democratic party seemed like the party that favored free speech. I am starting to doubt that, but Mr. Cohen should be able to marshall some of his Democratic colleagues to support this bill.

I can not stress how important a bill like this is. If you can, please write a letter to your Representative urging their support for HR 4364.

March 5, 2010 - Posted by | civil liberties, Democrats, free speech, politics, politics/social

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