Speech Act Passes Senate Judiciary Committee
By Rachel Ehrenfeld
Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010 @ 9:04PM
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, Founder of the Movement Against Libel Tourism, Lauds Senate Leadership for Moving on Bipartisan Bill
Act will protect Americansﾒ free speech rights and guard against the enforcement of foreign libel judgments in the U.S.
New York, NY- June 24, 2010: 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 Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), Chairman of the Judiciary Committee and Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama), its Ranking Member for having the Senate Judiciary Committee pass the bipartisan Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage (SPEECH) Act today. The legislation is cosponsored by Senator Arlen Specter (D-Pennsylvania), Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut).
ﾓThe SPEECH Act, passed in committee today, marks a critical victory in the fight for free speech and the advancement of our national security,ﾔ said Dr. Ehrenfeld. ﾓWithout the SPEECH Act, American writers, publishers, and Internet users, will continue to face an imminent threat of the enforcement of foreign libel suit when reporting on matters of public interest, including science, national security, health and personal safety.
ﾓWith Congressﾒ action, other nations will no longer have a green light to attempt to silence American critics. We have attracted a broad spectrum of those who are interested in protecting free speech and enabling authors to write about national security and other issues. This is not a partisan cause. This is an American cause. The entire Senate and then the House should take up this bill by the end of the summer and get it to the Presidentﾒs desk as quickly as possible. Our most important right as Americans is at stake.ﾔ
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 ﾓlibel-touristsﾔ 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 ﾓ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,ﾔ 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.
Based on New York Stateﾒs ﾓLibel Terrorism Protection Actﾔ (also known as ﾓRachelﾒs Lawﾔ), the SPEECH Act marks the culmination of a national campaign spearheaded by Dr. Ehrenfeld following her own experiences with libel tourism.
In Funding Evil, published in the U.S. in 2003, Dr. Ehrenfeld documented how Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz funded al-Qaeda, Hamas and other terrorist organizations. Mahfouz sued Dr. Ehrenfeld for libel in London, attempting to use the plaintiff-friendly British libel laws to intimidate her into silence. Mahfouz had previously used this tactic to bully more than 40 authors and a publisher into apologies for and retractions of similar revelations.
Dr. Ehrenfeld refused to acknowledge the British courtﾒs jurisdiction over her as she did not live in England, nor was her book published or marketed there. The English court ruled against her by default, ordering her to pay a hefty fine, apologize, retract her statements and pay Mahfouzﾒs substantial legal fees. Represented by her attorney, Daniel Kornstein of Kornstein Veisz Wexler & Pollard, LLP, Dr. Ehrenfeld countersued Mahfouz in New York to prevent the enforcement of the default judgment on the grounds that it did not meet the standard of American First Amendment protections for free speech. When the court dismissed the suit for lack of jurisdiction over Mahfouz, the New York State Legislature acted quickly, and passed ﾓRachelﾒs Law,ﾔ in April 2008, enabling the New York courts to take jurisdiction over foreign libel plaintiffs who sue New York authors and publishers abroad. Since then, six states have passed similar legislation protecting their residents.
In May 2008, Reps. 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.
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ﾒs fight for free speech.
Categories: Free Speech & Libel Tourism