We've discussed a few times in the past the need
for a federal anti-SLAPP law, rather than the weak state-by-state laws against SLAPP lawsuits, which are filed mainly to stifle speech, rather than for any legitimate purpose. Earlier this year, in particular, we discussed how the lawsuit filed by Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder against a DC-publication, highlighted
the need for a federal anti-SLAPP law. If you don't recall, Washington City Paper ran a silly anti-Snyder article that was clearly tongue in cheek. It's standard fans-bashing-ownership fare, which was mildly amusing if you were a Redskins fan. Rather than letting it pass, Snyder sued. Oddly, he sued in New York, leading to speculation that he was trying to avoid anti-SLAPP issues, despite everyone involved being in DC and/or Maryland -- both of which have stronger anti-SLAPP laws. Eventually, he did refile the suit closer to home, but the whole thing has convinced at least one lawmaker to move forward on a federal anti-SLAPP statute
. In fact, Rep. Steve Cohen wrote an article claiming that Snyder's actions, in an attempt to stifle the speech of reporters critical of himself, is a big part of what's convinced him of the need for such a law
, which is being dubbed the PETITION Act ("Protecting the Expression and Transmission of Ideas and Thoughts In Our Nation Act" -- ugh, so sick of these kinds of names):
The City Paper’s column was admittedly harsh but well within the bounds of free speech, especially about a public figure. Snyder was understandably angry, but instead of fighting speech with more speech, he chose to use the courts for his personal revenge. Whatever you may think of Snyder and the Redskins, the courts are not the appropriate forum for resolving these sorts of grudges.
Snyder's own attorney seemed to acknowledge the true intention of his lawsuit in a letter to the hedge fund that owns the newspaper, the original object of his suit. He wrote: "Mr. Snyder has more than sufficient means to protect his reputation and defend himself and his wife against your paper's concerted attempt at character assassination. We presume defending such litigation would not be a rational strategy for an investment firm such as yours. Indeed, the cost of litigation would presumably quickly outstrip the value of the Washington City Paper."
This is exactly what SLAPPs are all about. They are used to silence and harass critics by forcing them to spend countless time and resources defending against them. SLAPPs use the courts as a weapon to stifle participation in government and chill expression about matters of public interest.
Great to see renewed interest in a federal anti-SLAPP law (though, the details do matter). And, for that, we can thank Dan Snyder.