The Protect the Protest task force applauds the introduction of HB 759 in the Virginia House of Delegates. This legislation would significantly strengthen the Commonwealth’s protections for victims of strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPPs. SLAPPs are a particularly dangerous abuse of the judicial system that target civil society advocates, community leaders, journalists, whistleblowers, and everyday people who exercise their Constitutional rights. SLAPPs masquerade as ordinary civil lawsuits, but their true purpose is to silence free speech.
Virginia’s lack of adequate legal protections against SLAPPs currently draws people from across the country who seek to exploit Virginia courts to bully people exercising their right to speak out, including famously Congressman Devin Nunes and Hollywood actor Johnny Depp (who according to court records has never even set foot in Virginia). If passed, HB 759 would provide Virginians with some of the strongest anti-SLAPP protections in the country. The bill would allow SLAPP targets to petition the court to stop these meritless lawsuits before they are subjected to discovery. This would save victims from the costly and drawn out process of defending themselves in court and providing extraneous information to the SLAPP filer. The bill also provides an avenue for victims of SLAPPs to recoup the costs of getting a SLAPP dismissed. These improvements are needed to ensure greater protections for Virginians’ First Amendment rights and to deter serial SLAPP filers from outside of Virginia from using the Commonwealth’s courts as a haven for their harassing lawsuits.
“Virginia courts are being exploited by those who seek to harass critics and silence protected speech,” said Alison Friedman, Executive Director of the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR) and the secretariat of the Protect the Protest task force. “This bill would not only protect Virginia courts from abuse by those with no ties to the Commonwealth, but would protect all Virginians who seek to exercise their Constitutionally protected right to freedom of speech.”
The Protect the Protest task force is grateful to be working with Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg, who has championed this legislation. We look forward to continuing to support this bill as it makes its way through the legislative process.
Protect the Protest (PtP) is a task force of 25 social justice, environmental, and civil liberties organizations that is committed to combating the threat of SLAPPs.
Valentina Stackl, Greenpeace USA and Protect the Protest task force. firstname.lastname@example.org. (734) 276 6260