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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.

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


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  1. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 3 Mar 2020 @ 1:55pm

    Gotta get me some of that

    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.

    They could respond in that fashion, sure, just like I could wake up to find a literal pot of leprechaun gold at the food of my bed, but I imagine most of them will look at him weaponizing the courts and turning legal filings into PR stunts for the gullible and start thinking how that looks like a mighty tempting and effective thing for them to get in on.


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