Huge Win: Senate Passes Anti-Libel Tourism Law
On July 20, 2010, the U.S. Senate Senate passed the Bipartisan HR 2765 (as amended by the Leahy-Sessions SPEECH Act) by Unanimous Consent. The House of Representatives, which already passed HR 2765 introduced by Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN) by 433-2, has indicated that it will pass the same bill within days.
The bill was introduced by the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Ranking Member Senator Jeff Session (R-Alabama). The legislation is cosponsored by Senator Arlen Specter (D-Pennsylvania), Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut).
At the vote, Senator Leahy noted: “I would like to recognize Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, Director of the American Center for Democracy, who herself has been the victim of a libel suit in the United Kingdom, and has been a tremendous advocate for Congressional action in this area.”
The SPEECH Act will uphold First Amendment protections for American free expression by guarding American authors and publishers from the enforcement of frivolous foreign libel suits, filed in countries that do not have our strong free speech protections. Such lawsuits are often used by “libel-tourists” in an effort to suppress the rights of American scholars, writers, and journalists to speak, write and publish freely in print and on the Internet.
The Act grants “a cause of action for declaratory judgment relief against a party who has brought a successful foreign defamation action whose judgment undermines the First Amendment,” and provides for legal fees. These measures will help diminish the severe chilling effect such suits have already had on journalists, researchers, the general media, particularly on matters of national security and public safety.
“The freedoms of speech and the press are cornerstones of our democracy,” said Senator Leahy. “They enable vigorous debate, and an exchange of ideas that shapes our political process. Foreign libel lawsuits are undermining this informational exchange. While we cannot legislate changes to foreign law that are chilling protected speech in our country, we can ensure that our courts do not become a tool to uphold foreign libel judgments that undermine American First Amendment or due process rights. The SPEECH Act is an important step in putting a stop to this chilling of American free speech.”
“I am very pleased that this important bipartisan legislation has passed the Senate unanimously. This bill will allow American writers to clear their names when they are improperly found by a foreign court to have committed libel,” said Senator Sessions. “It will also bar enforcement in this country of foreign libel judgments that are contrary to our Constitution and laws. In short, this bill is a needed first step to ensure that weak free-speech protections and abusive legal practices in foreign countries do not prevent Americans from fully exercising their constitutional right to speak and debate freely.”
Based on New York State’s “Libel Terrorism Protection Act” (also known as “Rachel’s Law”), the SPEECH Act marks the culmination of a national campaign spearheaded by Dr. Ehrenfeld following her own experiences with libel tourism.
In May 2008, Reps. Peter King (R-NY) and Steve Cohen (D-TN), proposed similar bills in the House, and Senators Arlen Specter (D-PA) Joseph Lieberman (CT), and Charles Schumer (D-NY) sponsored the Free Speech Protection Act in the Senate, which have led to the introduction of the SPEECH Act. Former U.S. Attorney General, Judge Michael B. Mukasey, former Director of CIA James Woolsey, and attorneys Floyd Abrams and Daniel J. Kornstein , as well as the Association of American Publishers (AAP), are among many others who wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of the bill, urging its swiftly passage by Congress.
I am delighted that the Senate passed the SPEECH Act, which protects all Americans in the uninhibited, robust, and wide-open manner that the First Amendment was designed to guarantee, and I hope that the House will act decisively and with speed to approve this bill.
What this is all about:
LINK: American Center for Democracy