Another Day, Another Bogus SLAPP Suit From Devin Nunes And Steven Biss

from the pain-and-suffering dept

A week after promising yet another defamation lawsuit, Devin Nunes and his lawyer Steven Biss have delivered, suing the Washington Post and reporter Shane Harris for defamation in Virginia federal court. Once again, I'll remind you that Virginia has a very limited anti-SLAPP law, though that may be changing soon thanks, in part, to Nunes filing so many SLAPP suits in Virginia.

This latest lawsuit is more of the same. He's seeking $250,350,000 (or basically the same amount Jeff Bezos paid for the entire paper a few years back) for both compensatory and punitive damages for (I'm not joking): "insult, pain, embarrassment, humiliation, mental suffering, injury to his reputation, special damages, costs, and other out-of-pocket expenses." Remember when Devin Nunes pretended to be a free speech supporter? Now he thinks that a newspaper owes him basically its entire value for insults and embarrassment. Come on.

As is typical of a Biss LOLsuit, the complaint is more performative for Nunes supporters than it is legally persuasive for a court of law. It includes plenty of hyperbole and silly insinuations about Bezos and the Washington Post, like the following:

Billionaire, Jeff Bezos (“Bezos”), purchased WaPo in 2013 for the purpose of using WaPo’s mighty pen to influence Federal elections. Bezos failed to defeat the GOP in 2016, in spite of WaPo’s notoriously libelous reporting. Bezos’ WaPo heavily promoted the Russian “collusion” hoax between 2017 and 2019, in spite of the fact that there was no evidence that any member of the Trump campaign colluded with any “Russian” to influence the 2016 Presidential Election. This is 2020. As this case illustrates, Bezos and his printing press remain desperate to defame the President of the United States and his allies in Congress. This defamation must end.

Yeah, okay. As with all of Nunes' other lawsuits, this one stands basically no chance at all, but again calls into significant question Nunes' competency as an elected official. He's now sued multiple journalists and news organizations, along with political consultants and (of course) satirical Twitter accounts, all for daring to report on his activities. If he can't take that, he doesn't deserve to be an elected official -- especially not in a country with the free speech traditions of the United States. Nunes swore to defend and protect the Constitution, which includes the 1st Amendment, and he's making a mockery of that by rushing to the courts, demanding well over a billion dollars total, because the news has reported critically on him and his activities.

Meanwhile, the Campaign Legal Center may need to update its letter to the Office of Congressional Ethics, asking it to explore how the hell Nunes is paying for Biss' services, because to date, there is no clear disclosure for how Biss is being paid, and House rules do not allow free legal services without an explicit Legal Expense Fund. And, as CLC notes, Nunes does not appear to have filed the paperwork for that to occur.

In the meantime, while these lawsuits will likely get thrown out and are increasingly laughable, they do create a very real chilling effect. Even dealing with a bogus SLAPP suit takes time and money -- and many news organizations may shy away from reporting critically on Nunes in fear of having to deal with such a lawsuit, even if they know they'll succeed in the end. And that, of course, is a key reason why we see so many SLAPP suits. Even if they fail in court, they can still stifle speech.

One hopes that Nunes' colleagues in Congress might see how he's using the court system to stifle criticism and think that maybe, finally, we need a federal anti-SLAPP law.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: 1st amendment, anti-slapp, defamation, devin nunes, free speech, shane harris, slapp, steven biss, virginia
Companies: washington post

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 3 Mar 2020 @ 1:37pm

    Did Obama file an actual lawsuit? If not, what he did isn’t a SLAPP.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.