Representative Jamie Raskin Introduces the First Federal Bill to Deter Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs)
by Valentina Stackl
September 15, 2022
New landmark bill to protect free speech from baseless legal attacks and combat Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, commonly referred to as “SLAPPs.
Representative Jamie Raskin (MD-8) today introduced a landmark bill to protect free speech from baseless legal attacks. This is the nation’s first such bill at the federal level, building on the nonpartisan success of legislation in 32 states and the District of Columbia to combat Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, commonly referred to as “SLAPPs.”
Representative Raskin also hosted a Congressional hearing yesterday, where experts, including Greenpeace USA Deputy General Counsel Deepa Padmanabha, testified on the dangers SLAPPs pose to free speech and a healthy democracy, Greenpeace USA is being sued by multiple companies — including the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline — collectively seeking more than $400 million in damages. These suits represent a genuine threat to Greenpeace USA’s existence.
Ebony Twilley Martin, Co-Executive Director of Greenpeace USA, said: “Oil and gas companies have hijacked our legal system in an attempt to silence voices like ours. We must stop this rash of SLAPPs that threaten free speech and truth in America. We were SLAPPed for uplifting voices from the Indigenous led movement at Standing Rock, but we will not be silenced. We will fight these suits–not just for ourselves, but for everyone who uses their voices to speak out for a livable planet. This new legislation by Representative Raskin will help shift power back to the people and send a strong message to the corporations and millionaires who thought they could strip us of our rights and scare us into submission.”
The fossil fuel industry has used SLAPPs widely in recent years: a report from EarthRights International released Monday found that the industry used SLAPP tactics to target more than 150 people and organizations over the past 10 years. Over 50 have been targeted in the last five years alone.
David McKean, Executive Director of the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR), a member of the Protect the Protest task force, said: “Everyone has a right to speak out to defend people and the planet. But corporations are weaponizing the courts by filing lawsuits to silence activists, journalists, and organizations they see as interfering with their profits. These SLAPP lawsuits aren’t regular court cases; they’re attacks on free speech dressed up in legalese. The claims at issue are often baseless and aimed to drain the resources of those who are directly targeted and scare others from exercising their right to free speech. Dozens of states have passed anti-SLAPP laws protecting people and state courts from this abusive tactic. The bill introduced today will do the same for the federal court system, representing a significant step forward in eliminating these egregious lawsuits.”
SLAPPs are frequently used by parties with deep pockets to intimidate or threaten journalists and frontline activists into silence. These cases have terrible consequences and costs for advocacy and media organization. Even when wealthy individuals or corporations lose these suits, the lawsuits still drain money and time from the important missions of nonprofits.
In her testimony, Deputy General Counsel Deepa Padmanabha said, “Here we are, more than six years from when the first SLAPP was filed against us, still forced to invest time and resources into these legal battles that otherwise would have been used to protect communities and the environment from toxic pollution and the existential threat of climate change. While our window to fight the climate crisis continues to shrink, we have to win because the voices of those who protect our planet and our communities cannot be silenced.”
Greenpeace USA is part of a global network of independent campaigning organizations that use peaceful protest and creative communication to expose global environmental problems and promote solutions that are essential to a green and peaceful future. Greenpeace USA is committed to transforming the country’s unjust social, environmental, and economic systems from the ground up to address the climate crisis, advance racial justice, and build an economy that puts people first. Learn more at www.greenpeace.org/usa.