Chairman Raskin Introduces Legislation Establishing Federal Anti-SLAPP Statute to Protect First Amendment Rights

Bill Would Deter Corporations and Wealthy Individuals from Filing Meritless Lawsuits Designed to Stifle Speech, Silence Ordinary Citizens

September 15, 2022

Washington D.C. (September 15, 2022) — Today, Rep. Jamie Raskin, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, introduced the Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) Protection Act to establish a procedure to dismiss and deter strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) and punish entities that attempt to use this litigation to stifle First Amendment protected speech.  The legislation follows a Subcommittee hearing yesterday that highlighted the fossil fuel industry’s use of SLAPPs to silence environmental activists and non-profits who speak out against proposed fossil fuel pipelines and other projects that contribute to climate change.

“For decades, the fossil fuel industry has abused our legal system by deploying costly, protracted and meritless lawsuits to target activists, non-profits and other organizations exercising their First Amendment rights,” said Chairman Raskin.  “The rights to free speech, peaceful assembly, and a free press are fundamental to what it means to be an American, but this gap in federal law has allowed corporations and bad actors to chill speech and dissent.  This legislation will stop wealthy forces from weaponizing the law to protect selfish interests.” 

“SLAPPs undermine the very values that are fundamental to our democracy:  free speech and healthy debate.  For the past six years, Greenpeace USA has been fighting SLAPPs that collectively seek more than $400 million in damages.  Smaller groups and individuals can be sued into silence by the mere filing of a SLAPP, which is precisely the intent behind this tactic.  Federal anti-SLAPP legislation will lower the rising price tag on free speech—and protect the voices of those who dedicate their lives to defending our planet and our communities,” said Deepa Padmanabha, Deputy General Counsel for Greenpeace USA.

“By introducing the SLAPP Protection Act, Congressman Raskin is leading the way in ensuring that people can speak up about problems and injustices important to their communities and the American people.  SLAPP lawsuits aren’t regular court cases.  They're baseless legal actions filed by powerful individuals and businesses, targeting the free speech of protestors, journalists, and others who speak out on public matters.  The aim of these cases is to tie up their targets in court until they sign away their First Amendment rights.  Dozens of states have passed anti-SLAPP laws protecting people and state courts from this abusive tactic.  The SLAPP Protection Act would do the same for the federal court system, representing a significant step forward in eliminating these harmful attacks,” said David McKean, Executive Director, International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR) and Protect the Protest task force leadership.

“Congressman Raskin’s landmark legislation will help ensure that concerned citizens, journalists, and activists can speak up about issues that are important in their communities without fear of retaliation. The SLAPP Protection Act will provide courts with the tools to quickly identify and throw out SLAPPs, while keeping safeguards in place to protect plaintiffs who are seeking access to justice,” said Kirk Herbertson, Senior Policy Advisor, EarthRights International.

Since the 1980s, SLAPPs have been used by powerful entities and individuals to silence critics through costly, lengthy, and often meritless litigation.  Currently, there is no federal SLAPP statute that provides consistent protection across federal courts.  This bill would create a “special motion to dismiss” SLAPP suits within federal law, modeled on the language and procedure currently in place in states with strong anti-SLAPP statutes.  The special motion is distinct from other types of motions to dismiss, listed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), and would be substantively treated as a Motion for Summary Judgement under Rule 56.  The law would also provide a floor for anti-SLAPP measures in the 18 states that currently do not have any anti-SLAPP provisions whatsoever. 

The SLAPP Protection Act of 2022 aims to protect the exercise of constitutionally protected rights, including free speech, petition, and peaceful assembly, as well as freedom of the press and the right to strike.  To protect legitimate defamation cases, the bill includes several exceptions, such as government officials acting in their official capacity, whistleblower actions and litigation under anti-discrimination statutes.

Click here to read the text of the Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation Protection Act.