At Earthjustice, we fight to ensure equal access to justice and that our courts are open, fair and affordable to all. Sorry bad players Those who want to limit access to court try to silence those exercising their right of first amendment to hold them accountable. One of their tools: Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPP).
What is a SLAPP outfit?
Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation, also known as SLAPP cases, are cases targeting activists, journalists, protesters. and other public figures to engage in endless legal action to silence their voices. These senseless lawsuits are used by rich and powerful corporations to intimidate those who oppose them. If they can get someone to court, SLAPP is a self-serving effort based on the assumption that litigation targets will silence themselves to avoid costly lawsuits.
What does the SLAPP outfit look like?
SLAPP teams are more common than you might think and have varying degrees of nonsense. Former President Donald Trump SLAPP outfit used Against writer Timothy O’Brien, who claims that Trump’s net worth is much lower than he publicly claims. After suing O’Brien for $5 billion for defamation, a judge dismissed the case after almost four years back and forth. In another high-profile example, comedian and presenter Last week John Oliver tonight SLAP servedMurray Energy, America’s largest private coal company, was sued after it aired an episode in which he mocked then-CEO Bob Murray and highlighted a mine accident at the company’s mine that killed nine people. Murray sued John Oliver for damagesIt kept him bound in court for almost two years and tried to issue a speaking order that would forbid Oliver from re-airing the episode or even discussing it in the future.
But SLAPP suits don’t just impress journalists and late-night comedians. Increasingly, ordinary people are getting caught by the plus sign. In 2016, many of us were excited by the courage and tenacity of the United States. Standing Rock Siouxwho He opposed the fossil fuel company Energy Transfer Partners, which was trying to build the Dakota Access Pipeline, by making reservations and endangering their drinking water. Thousands of protesters joined the Standing Rock Sioux, fighting for their right to control their land and protect their drinking water. In 2017, after months of protests that drew worldwide media attention, Energy Transfer Partners sue Greenpeace and other persons and organizations For $900 million in damage Under US racketeering laws – the same laws used to fight the mob. These lawsuits were not about recovering actual monetary damages. It was about silencing the voices of those who were protesting and discouraging others from raising their voices against powerful corporations in the face of injustice.
How do SLAPP cases affect our access to justice?
we aspire for courts to be an institution that protects the rights of all, but SLAPP lawsuits are a way for the rich and powerful to abuse the court system and turn it into a tool that silences individuals and organizations. SLAPP cases disguise themselves as legitimate cases and while many are dismissed, their main purpose is to suppress legitimate opposition and protest in the process. If you’re an ordinary person like the Native water guards at Standing Rock, the threat of being liable for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages and legal fees can certainly dampen your willingness and ability to protest your right of first amendment. Rich and powerful companies rely on this and know exactly what they’re doing when they’re filing these frivolous lawsuits.
Protestone of the cornerstones of our democracy, such an important right in the early days of our country that it is clearly included in the first amendment. One thing is clear. Our courts must uphold this right for all and cannot become tools for the rich and powerful to abuse power and limit our ability to all seek justice and speak out against issues affecting our communities.
What can we do to end this abuse?
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle acknowledged the deterrent effects of SLAPP lawsuits on protected speech and protest, but there is currently no federal anti-SLAPP statute that would give individuals a mechanism to quickly dismiss frivolous cases. As of September 2022, 32 states and the District of Columbia They passed some kind of anti-SLAPP law to fight SLAPP lawsuits and allow defendants to quickly dismiss cases of no value in court and avoid years of costly legal fees.
on September 15, 2022, Representative Jamie Raskin (MD-08) introduced HR 8864, the SLAPP Protection Act, to assist in ending the use of these cases, and to provide victims of SLAPP cases with quick impeachment mechanisms in federal court. The bill establishes a process to quickly identify SLAPP cases in federal court and increase the costs for those filing them while minimizing the cost to SLAPP targets. It also creates protections to prevent abuse of the law and ensures that individuals and groups who file genuine public interest lawsuits can do so without being falsely labeled as a SLAPP. Congress must act now to ensure that everyone, regardless of state, can exercise their right of first amendment without fear and have access to our courts.