ThePopTort, June 20, 2016
There was a time – in the not too distant past, I should say – that support for “anti-SLAPP” proposals was a given for any self-respecting progressive organization. SLAPP suits, or “strategic lawsuits against public participation,” are meritless suits typically brought by companies for the sole purpose of silencing or intimidating critics.
A well-known survivor of corporate intimidation himself, Ralph Nader was an early proponent of raising awareness about the dangers of SLAPP suits, in fact writing in support of the first book ever critiquing them in the 1990s. (“Anyone who treasures and uses the First Amendment will find this first ever book on the SLAPP suit epidemic a wake up call to careful civic action.”) This is interesting because Ralph Nader is also one of the nation’s most principled champions of civil litigation and the “tort system,” and to an equal degree, critic of “tort reform” laws that make it more difficult for people to sue. In fact, last year he launched an entire museum celebrating the tort system and the right to sue. Yet when it comes right down to it, anti-SLAPP laws are nothing if not a type of “tort reform,” i.e., they make it easier for certain kinds of cases to get thrown out of court. Clearly, bill drafters face real challenges when defining what qualifies as a “SLAPP suit.” No one wants legitimate cases thrown out too. (“Baby with the bathwater” kind of thing.)