Fighting For Better Anti-SLAPP Laws: I'm Joining The Board Of The Public Participation Project

from the because-free-speech-matters dept

Anyone who's read Techdirt for any length of time knows that I've spent years fighting for better anti-SLAPP laws at both the state and federal level. You may remember my public talk about the importance of anti-SLAPP's using the lawsuit against myself as an example, though my fighting for better anti-SLAPP laws dates back way before that event. Or, if you want a more humorous take on SLAPP lawsuits and the need for anti-SLAPP laws, you can check out John Oliver's clever take on the issue:

In short, SLAPP lawsuits are "Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation." These are lawsuits -- generally defamation lawsuits -- that target someone's speech, not because the lawsuits have any chance of succeeding, but just because the filer knows that the lawsuit itself is a huge hassle, in terms of time, money, and attention, for those on the receiving end. What a good anti-SLAPP law does is threefold:

  1. It shifts the burden quickly to the plaintiff to prove they have a viable case. This is important. Legitimate cases are not stopped by anti-SLAPP laws.
  2. It makes it easier for the court to then dismiss frivolous SLAPP suits quickly, hopefully reducing the hassle aspect of such lawsuits.
  3. It awards attorneys' fees to the defendant, hopefully reducing the cost of facing such a lawsuits, and providing stronger incentives against potential filers of SLAPP suits.
Unfortunately, only a little more than half of all states have an anti-SLAPP law, and there is no federal anti-SLAPP law. Also, multiple circuits have decided that state anti-SLAPP laws should not be used in federal court (multiple circuits have gone the other way as well). Even among states that do have anti-SLAPP laws, they can vary widely from state to state in terms of what they cover, how they work, and how effective they are.

To sum it up: the state of anti-SLAPP laws is a mess, and it's allowing powerful people to create real chilling effects and tie up critics and commentators with bogus, expensive, lawsuits.

For years, now, the non-profit Public Participation Project has been fighting to get better state anti-SLAPP laws passed and to get a federal anti-SLAPP law in place. They also keep track of the details of what states have anti-SLAPP laws, what they cover, and how various litigation around anti-SLAPP laws has turned out.

I've admired and relied on its work for years, and that's why I was delighted this week to agree to join the board of the Public Participation Project, and help the organization fight for better anti-SLAPP laws to protect everyone's right to free speech, and against abusive, censorious, litigation that makes a mockery of the 1st Amendment and freedom of expression.

Filed Under: 1st amendment, anti-slapp, federal anti-slapp, free speech, slapp, slapp suits
Companies: public participation project

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  1. icon
    Thad (profile), 12 Mar 2020 @ 8:50am


    If anyone here thought their attorney was equally incompetent with regard to representing them, would anyone here hire that attorney?

    Depends. Is Shiva Ayyadurai still lurking in the comments?

    Speaking more seriously, though: there's a point Ken White regularly makes on the All the President's Lawyers podcast, and that's that a lawyer's efficacy can be viewed in more than one way. A legal strategy that may be bad in court may be extremely useful as PR. And that's largely how SLAPP suits work: the people filing them don't expect to win, they just want to make life difficult for people who criticize them. Devin Nunes's bevy of SLAPP suits are an instructive example: he wants to do harm to the people who have criticized him, he wants to scare people who might consider criticizing him with the threat that if they do, he'll sue them too, and he wants to feed a victim narrative that will play to his base.

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