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Farenthold files federal anti-SLAPP legislation modeled on Texas law

U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, has filed federal anti-SLAPP litigation legislation modeled on the wildly successful Texas Citizen Participation Act.

The federal SPEAK FREE Act, H.R. 2304, is co-authored by U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-San Jose.

TAB championed the state anti-SLAPP law, HB 2973, in the 2011 Texas Legislature.

It was authored by another Corpus Christi lawmaker, Rep. Todd Hunter, chairman of the House Calendars committee.

If signed into law, HR 2304 would be an important step toward nationwide protection against meritless suits that chill free speech.

A SLAPP suit is a "strategic lawsuit against public participation," or an attempt by one party to silence another in a controversy by burdening them with expensive and time-consuming litigation.  

Media defendants such as broadcast newsrooms are often dragged into such suits simply because they reported on a whistleblower’s claims.

“My SPEAK FREE Act would take the protections of the well-regarded Texas anti-SLAPP law and make them a floor for safeguarding free speech nationwide. This is about protecting the First Amendment – and it’s about protecting the modern information economy that thrives as our public discourse thrives. Most of us are familiar with the expression ‘I disapprove of what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’ That attitude toward free speech is as important than ever in the information age, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to bolster free speech rights with this bill,” Farenthold said in a statement issued by his office.

The SPEAK FREE Act mirrors the existing Texas law by creating a process where expensive court proceedings are delayed and claims can be dismissed if the defendant can show that a SLAPP suit cannot succeed on the merits.

“If you post an honest review on sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor, or if you stand up and voice your opinion about any issue of concern for you or your community, you shouldn’t have to fear being silenced by someone with money to burn who is abusing our legal system," said Farenthold.

The Public Participation Project, a coalition of free-speech, media and other groups, is working to pass the federal proposal.

The group’s board of directors includes Kevin Goldberg, a partner with TAB Associate member D.C. law firm Fletcher Heald and Hildreth, and Laura Prather of TAB Associate member law firm Haynes and Boone.

Prather drafted the Texas anti-SLAPP law and led negotiations on the bill language with opposition forces for TAB and the Texas Press Association.

Questions?  Contact TAB's Michael Schneider or call (5120 322-9944.

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