It's Fun To Laugh About Congressional Reps Suing A Satirical Internet Cow, But It's A Real Attack On Free Speech
from the we-need-an-anti-slapp-law-now dept
I originally wrote a draft of this post over the weekend, before Nunes, filed a second bullshit lawsuit against Liz Mair, but now that that has happened, it has become even more relevant. I’ve lightly updated the original text to include this new lawsuit.
Lots of folks laughed about Rep. Devin Nunes’ crazy lawsuit against a satirical cow on Twitter that mocked him, but much of the case is no laughing matter for those on the receiving end. While it is unlikely (but not impossible) that a court will let the case get far enough to unmask who is behind the satirical Twitter accounts, those individuals will still need to lawyer up. Also, while it gets ignored in much of the reporting on the case, there was one named defendant: political strategist/communications expert Liz Mair, who seemed to get sued for tweeting criticisms of Nunes.
While the fake cow account got hundreds of thousands of new followers, Mair didn’t get quite the same bump. But she’s got even more crap to deal with in this case — as well as the second case that Nunes just filed. She’s now written a thoughtful post on just how totally fucked up it is that a sitting member of Congress would sue a critic for being mean to him on Twitter:
… it?s vitally important that the entire nation understands what this lawsuit is really about: A sitting member of the U.S. government, specifically, a congressman, is trying to stifle free speech ? mine, yours and every other American?s ? by using litigation as a cudgel to bully and intimidate.
The fact is, free speech is recognized and protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Framers correctly considered it a God-given right, an inherent freedom so important to the system of government they were establishing that they explicitly stated its existence straight at the outset of the Bill of Rights.
James Madison, fourth president of the United States, father of the Constitution and co-author of the Federalist Papers, famously commented that ?the censorial power is in the people over the government, and not in the government over the people.? Nunes? lawsuit flips that notion entirely on its head.
There’s a good history lesson in the article that is worth clicking through to read, but a key point:
The plain fact is, Rep. Nunes? lawsuit constitutes a grave threat to the long recognized and respected civil liberties belonging to each of us, and indeed our system of governance writ large. Madison also said, ?All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree.? He was right, as was British historian Lord Acton when he said, ?Power tends to corrupt.?
This is why Americans should scrutinize our public officials? political committee expenditures ? including those of leadership PACs ? voting records, public statements, financial interests, behavior and conduct. It?s what the Framers wanted, it is what the First Amendment guarantees a right to do, and it is sound policy to boot. True freedom and good, constitutional government are impossible to maintain unless each of us is able to question, research and review what our public officials do, based on publicly available information and interactions with them and their staff, and then engage in unimpeded, public debate about what we find. They work for us, not the other way round.
Mair will almost certainly win these cases, but as someone who has some experience on this front, the process she’s about to go through is painful. It is resource intensive, not just in legal fees, but in the utter distraction it creates for every other thing you do, not to mention the insane amount of time it takes to defend against such attacks on your free expression.
Mair doesn’t mention it in her piece, but the situation she’s facing is yet another reason why we need better anti-SLAPP laws, both individually within every state, as well as at the federal level. Of course, for it to happen at the federal level, we’d need Congress to get on board with a federal anti-SLAPP law, and I’m guessing that Devin Nunes is an automatic “no” vote.
Update: If you’re so inclined, Mair has set up a donation page which will go towards legal fees and (if more than that is covered) towards holding government officials accountable.