Some of Donald Trump's fans--and even staffers--have been getting rough with critics, which obviously is inexcusable. It turns out that Trump's also planning to use SLAPP suits to silence his critics:
Mr. Trump’s saber-rattling toward the media isn’t an idle threat. In 1984, he sued the Chicago Tribune and his chief critic at the paper, Paul Gapp, for $500 million based on an article declaring Mr. Trump’s plan to build the world’s tallest tower as “one of the silliest things anyone could inflict on New York or any other city.” The court ultimately tossed the suit by finding “that the statements contained in the Tribune article [were] expressions of opinion” that enjoyed full First Amendment protection. From the time the suit was filed, Mr. Trump seemed more interested in thumping his detractors than actually recovering damages with a weak legal argument.
For the uninitiated, that type legal action is known as a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP). A SLAPP uses the legal process as a weapon against free speech. It isn’t designed to assert a claim likely to succeed on the merits. Instead, the plaintiff uses the cost, hassle and reputational damage associated with a lawsuit to force silence, avoid transparency or intimidate a defendant from expressing his views.
We’re currently operating under a patchwork of anti-SLAPP laws. Slightly more than a quarter of the states have some form of protection against SLAPPs. The laws serve two basic purposes: Creating a disincentive to file SLAPPs and providing a lower-cost litigation exit for defendants. Some of them, like Texas’ Citizens Participation Act, suspend the costly discovery process until the court rules on the anti-SLAPP motion.
Unfortunately, even those protections are in jeopardy when it comes to federal courts. As a general rule, substantive state laws apply in federal court, but procedural rules do not. Judges serving on both the District of Columbia U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals have suggested that state anti-SLAPP laws should be considered procedural prescriptions and ignored by federal courts.
Here at PB.com we are not fans of SLAPP suits and believe that existing laws need to be strengthened at the state level and that a federal anti-SLAPP law is long overdue. Accordingly, we abjure and condemn Trump's plans in this regard (not to mention, of course, the punching stuff too).
Links to earlier posts are embedded in the tweets that follow (use the bit.ly links):