Leahy, Sessions Introduce Bill To Prevent Foreign Defamation Judgments
By Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010 @ 9:07PM
WASHINGTON (Tuesday, June 22, 2010) – The top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee today introduced legislation to shield American authors, journalists and publishers from foreign libel lawsuits that would otherwise curb writersﾒ First Amendment rights. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) introduced the Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage (SPEECH) Act Tuesday morning.
The SPEECH Act will protect authors, journalists, and publishers from foreign libel suits. The legislation prevents a U.S. federal court from recognizing or enforcing a foreign judgment for defamation that is inconsistent with the First Amendment. The bill also provides a separate declaratory judgment remedy for an author or publisher who wishes to demonstrate that a foreign judgment would not be enforceable under American law, even where the foreign party has not attempted to enforce the judgment in the United States. This will allow the author and publisher to clear their names, regardless of the actions of the foreign party.
“Over recent years, American authors, reporters and publishers have fallen victim to libel lawsuits in countries with significantly weaker free speech protections than what our First Amendment affords,” said Leahy. “This bipartisan legislation guarantees that a foreign defamation judgment cannot be enforced in the United States if that country’s libel standards are inconsistent with American law. We cannot legislate changes in foreign law to emulate American constitutional standards, but we can ensure that our courts do not become a tool to uphold foreign libel judgments that undermine our First Amendment or due process rights.”
“This important bipartisan legislation will allow American writers to clear their names when they are improperly found by a foreign court to have committed libel,” said Sessions. ﾓIt will also bar enforcement in this country of foreign libel judgments that are contrary to our Constitution and laws. In short, this bill is a needed first step to ensure that weak free-speech protections and abusive legal practices in foreign countries do not prevent Americans from fully exercising their constitutional right to speak and debate freely.”
The legislation is cosponsored by Senator Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senator Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.). American writers and publishers have been subject to increasing libel lawsuits filed in foreign countries. The widespread circulation of many publications via the Internet has led to an increase in libel lawsuits, regardless of whether the writer or publisher has any significant connections to the foreign forum. The lawsuits are often filed in countries with weak free speech protections, increasing the filer’s chance of prevailing.
Leahy and Sessions are expected to offer the legislation as a substitute amendment during the Judiciary Committee’s consideration of H.R. 2765, a companion bill passed by the House of Representatives last year. The Committee is scheduled to consider the legislation at a business meeting on Thursday.