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Sunday, April 04, 2010

Federal Anti-SLAPP Legislation Being Considered

As reported in this week's On the Media, legislation has been proposed in Congress to deter so-called Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs), defamation cases brought not because they have legal merit or are likely to be successful, but simply to harass and bankrupt the defendants and thereby silence them, and pre-emptively induce self-censorship by others who might criticize the plaintiff.

SLAPPs have targeted a variety of groups and individuals. Environmental activists have been sued for expressing their view that an industrial facility will be polluting; James Randi and CSICOP (now the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry) were sued by Uri Geller and other purported psychics for pointing to evidence that they were fakers. According to the story, SLAPPs have proliferated as social media expand the opportunities for public expression.

The situation is even worse in the United Kingdom, where libel law appears to be stronger than whatever protection for free speech is considered to be in that country's unwritten constitution. A recently prominent case involving a skeptic/consumer advocate being sued by homeopaths is described here: http://www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/index.php/site/project/333/.

Called the Citizen Participation Act, the bill has been introduced by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN9). A summary by the Public Participation Project can be read at http://www.anti-slapp.org/?q=node/16. It would not supercede anti-SLAPP laws already in place in several states, but would create the option of moving a case to federal jurisdiction.

If you are in Cohen's district you can express your support through his web form at http://cohen.house.gov/index.php?option=com_email_form&Itemid=113; otherwise you can write him at 1005 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515.

Eric Hamell

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