A rare bit of great news out of Congress: the Senate has unanimously passed a bill protecting Americans against libel judgments rendered in countries that don’t have our protections for free speech:
On July 19, 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.”
Cultural jihadis and terror supporters have regularly used the libel laws of other countries, especially Britain, to attack authors critical of Islam and the jihad against the West. The phenomenon is called libel tourism and is itself a form of terrorism. My congratulations and thanks to the senators of all parties for raising a shield to protect our 1st Amendment rights.