April 23, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Cohen: Protect Free Speech by Combating SLAPPs

The PETITION Act, or the Protecting the Expression and Transmission of Ideas and Thoughts In Our Nation Act, would provide procedural protections to filter groundless cases before the costs and burden of litigation cause defendants to waive their First Amendment rights by “correcting” or silencing themselves as part of a settlement; allow a SLAPP defendant to bring a special motion for early dismissal and to stay most discovery proceedings pending disposal of the motion; and enable a defendant who prevails on the special motion to recover fees and costs.

It is interesting to note that even though Snyder, the Redskins and the City Paper are all based in the Washington region, Snyder originally chose to file his lawsuit in New York. This is probably because D.C. recently passed strong anti-SLAPP legislation while New York has notoriously weak protections. That’s why we need uniform federal protection.

Free speech and the right to petition the government are enshrined in the First Amendment and are vital to a healthy democracy. The twists and turns of the Snyder case can be fun to watch for a lifelong sports fan like me. But SLAPPs are no laughing matter.

Rep. Steve Cohen is a Democrat who represents Tennessee’s 9th district.

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