For many years now, we’ve talked about the importance of a federal anti-SLAPP law, that would protect the First Amendment. As we’ve explained, it is not uncommon for people to abuse our judicial system to file a lawsuit against someone for saying things that they don’t like, knowing that no matter how frivolous, the threat (and cost) of the lawsuit is often enough to get them to shut up. That’s why such “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation” (SLAPP) are so popular. As it stands, anti-SLAPP laws are a complete hodgepodge of state laws. Some states have no anti-SLAPP laws. Others have weak ones. And a few have strong ones (though even some of those are under attack).
While there have been some attempts in the past, it appears that some in Congress are trying, once again, to create a federal anti-SLAPP law. This one has been introduced by Reps. Blake Farenthold and Anna Eshoo (with co-sponsorship from Reps. Darrell Issa, Jared Polis and Trent Franks).
The SPEAK FREE Act of 2015, will protect citizens from frivolous lawsuits that target their First Amendment Rights. Based on the Texas Citizens Participation Act, this bill will prevent bad actors from using a lawsuit to silence public opinion simply because they don’t agree with it. These lawsuits, known as SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation), pose a threat not only to free speech, but to the modern information economy. Protecting our right to free speech drives economic opportunity by paving the way to new forums for expression, like YouTube, or by facilitating the rise and fall of products or services through competition and honest buyer feedback.
The SPEAK FREE Act will provide a federal backstop to state Anti-SLAPP laws by creating a process similar to that in Texas and California, where expensive court proceedings are delayed and claims can be dismissed if the defendant can show that a SLAPP suit cannot succeed on the merits.
The full text of the bill can be seen at that link (or below), and it does appear to be similar to the ones in Texas and California, making it much easier to dismiss bogus SLAPP suits, to halt discovery and to get awarded attorneys fees for such SLAPP suits. Also, unlike some state laws, it is not limited to just speech about the government, which is important. While there may be some specifics within the bill that are worth tweaking, overall, it seems clearly modeled on the very successful, and well-thought out bills already in place in Texas and California. It would be a huge boost to freedom of expression to have this become law.
Seeing as how some rather wealthy folks have been trying to kill off anti-SLAPP laws in states already, expect to see a lot of FUD come out about this attempt to put in place an anti-SLAPP law that protects free expression across the entire country.