The United States Constitution grants every person the right to petition the government along with free speech. Yet, every year, thousands of individuals, community groups, and organizations are sued for exercising these constitutional rights. These lawsuits are known as “SLAPPs” (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation). SLAPPs are often declared by corporations, real estate developers, or government officials against individuals or organizations who oppose them on public issues. Usually, SLAPPs are based on ordinary civil tort claims such as libel or slander, malicious prosecution, abuse of power, conspiracy, and interference with prospective economic advantage.
The difference between an ordinary defamation lawsuit and a SLAPP suit is that the plaintiff in a SLAPP suit does not generally plan to actually win their lawsuit. Instead, SLAPP suits are intended to intimidate, and discourage activists from exercising their right to free speech and protest. The main purpose of a SLAPP case is to decrease public debate on specific issues. Defending a SLAPP requires substantial money, time, and legal resources, and therefore diverts the defendant’s attention away from the public issue and/or forces them to discontinue the case. Furthermore, a SLAPP also sends a threatening message to others that they too can just as easily be sued if they speak up.
In one example of a SLAPP case was in Dallas, a $1 million lawsuit filed by a pet-sitting company against a couple who wrote a one-star review on Yelp. Prestigious Pets and its owner filed the lawsuit against the couple, accusing them of defamation, business disparagement and a breach of contract after the couple posted the negative review. The case was eventually dismissed due to an Anti-SLAPP law that allows judges to dismiss frivolous suits filed against people who speak out about a matter of public concern. This is just one illustration of how businesses or dominant people can use their power to try to keep citizens from exercising their first amendment rights if it could tarnish their image.
I believe that SLAPP cases violate the first amendment because big businesses are prohibiting the public from exercising their right to free speech by suing them and using the power of the court system along with their own money to silence public opinions. SLAPP cases are just a way for people or corporations to hold their own interests above public interest and protect themselves from any criticism or opposition. Freedom of speech is important because it allows people to form and share opinions that may be different from others. Because SLAPP suits limit the first amendment, I believe that they should be outlawed or at least highly regulated in order to prevent businesses from punishing citizens simply because they exercise their first amendment rights to disagree or speak out against them.
“Examples Of SLAPP Suits In Texas”. Slapped In Texas, 2011, https://slappedintexas.com/examples-of-slapp-suits-in-texas/.
“Jarrow Formulas, Inc. V. Lamarche”. California Anti-SLAPP Project, 2011, https://www.casp.net/california-anti-slapp-first-amendment-law-resources/caselaw/california-supreme-court/jarrow-formulas-inc-v-lamarche/.
“SLAPP Suits | Civil Liberties Defense Center”. Cldc.Org, 2017, https://cldc.org/organizing-resources/slapp-suits/.