Speech Act Passes U.S. Senate By Unanimous Consent

By American Center for Democracy
Tuesday, July 20th, 2010 @ 8:53PM

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Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, author of Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed – and How to Stop It, and founder of the movement against libel tourism, praised the United States Senate for passing the Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act, HR 2765 (as amended by the Leahy-Sessions SPEECH Act) by unanimous consent yesterday. The bill was introduced by the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee Senator Patrick Leahy(D-Vermont) and Ranking Member Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama). The legislation is cosponsored by Senators Arlen Specter (D-Pennsylvania), Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and 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.”

“I am delighted that the Senate passed the SPEECH Act, which protects all Americans in the uninhibited, robust, and wide-open manner that the First Amendment was designed to guarantee,” said Dr. Ehrenfeld. “I hope that the House will act decisively and with speed to approve this bill.”

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.”

“I am very pleased that this important bipartisan legislation has passed the Senate unanimously. This bill will allow American writers to clear their names when they are improperly found by a foreign court to have committed libel,” said Senator Sessions. “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.”

Based on New York State’s “Libel Terrorism Protection Act” (also known as “Rachel’s Law”), the SPEECH Act marks the culmination of a national campaign spearheaded by Dr. Ehrenfeld following her own experiences with libel tourism.

In May 2008, Representatives Peter King (R-NY) and Steve Cohen (D-TN), proposed similar bills in the House, and Senators Arlen Specter (D-PA) Joseph Lieberman (CT), and Charles Schumer (D-NY) sponsored the Free Speech Protection Act in the Senate. Dr. Ehrenfeld thanks their initiative and support, which have led to the introduction of the SPEECH Act. In particular, Dr. Ehrefeld also extends her thanks to former U.S. Attorney General, Judge Michael B. Mukasey, former Director of CIA James Woolsey, and attorneys Floyd Abrams and Daniel J. Kornstein for their unflagging efforts in support of this legislation.

The editorial pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, New York Post, Los Angeles Times and Miami Herald, as well as organizations such as the Association of American Publishers, American Library Association, the American Society of News Editors, the Independent Book Publishers Association, the American Civil Liberties Union and 9/11 Families for a Secure America, among others, have supported Dr. Ehrenfeld’s fight for free speech.

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