In this article, Samantha Brown and Mark Goldowitz of the Public Participation Project, a First Amendment group dedicated to passage of a national anti-SLAPP law, provide some context for the emerging, speech-stifling SLAPP lawsuit phenomenon. Otherwise known by their full name as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, SLAPPs are meritless lawsuits used by opponents of citizens and groups who speak out on issues as a means to stifle that party’s ability to speak publicly. These lawsuits are a serious concern as they threaten speakers’ First Amendment political speech rights. Although a majority of states have passed anti-SLAPP laws, uniform protection against these lawsuits has yet to materialize. As a result, the authors outline a sensible piece of model legislation, known as the Public Participation Act that would afford citizens and groups’ a uniform standard of protection against SLAPPs.
The Public Participation Act: A Comprehensive Model Approach to End Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation in the USA
The Center for Competitive Politics is pleased to welcome this guest blog post by Samantha Brown of the Federal Anti-SLAPP Project
Politicians Behaving Badly
I gave (my lawyers) a pile of money, and said go get ‘em.
— Local Michigan official, commenting on a lawsuit he brought against the citizen who organized the recall petition against him.
Right now, in Michigan, some interesting events are unfolding in local politics. In September, police stopped Flushing Township Supervisor Don Schwieman for drunk driving. After refusing to stop immediately, he was ordered out of the car at gunpoint, when police discovered he was wearing only inside-out, backwards shorts. The police report indicated that he falsely identified himself as the chief of police and that police found a commemorative police badge in his glove compartment. The report also indicated that Schwieman’s blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit.
The next morning, Schwieman pleaded not guilty to the charges, and some Flushing residents, already highly dissatisfied with direction their local government was taking, decided enough was enough. Calling the entire incident “embarrassing,” Flushing Township resident Gerry Wood initiated a petition to recall Schwieman.
Schwieman was displeased at the recall, but at the time it was filed, asserted that he had “no intention of reading the recall petition’s language.” A couple weeks later, at the end of October, he became convinced that the recall would be successful. A few weeks after that, he must have found time to read the petition, because in December, he decided to sue Wood for libel and slander. For good measure, he also sued the Genesee County Clerk and Election Commission, for “aiding” in said slander.