The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the New Jersey Press Association are urging the governor of New Jersey to sign into law a bill that would allow courts to quickly dismiss meritless lawsuits intended to chill speech about matters of public interest.
In a letter submitted to Gov. Phil Murphy on July 6, 2023, the Reporters Committee expressed support for S2802, which would make it harder for powerful parties to silence criticism through expensive, baseless legal proceedings. Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia currently have laws on the books designed to combat such meritless actions — so-called strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPP suits. These measures — known as anti-SLAPP laws — include provisions that speed up the process of getting frivolous lawsuits tossed out of court so that journalists and other critics aren’t burdened by costly legal proceedings.
S2802, which lawmakers in both houses of the New Jersey Legislature unanimously passed in June, mirrors the Uniform Public Expression Protection Act, a model anti-SLAPP law that aims to eliminate meritless claims at an early stage.
UPEPA has so far been adopted by four states. In their letter, the Reporters Committee and the New Jersey Press Association argue that “New Jersey should be the fifth.”
“Unflinching journalism is essential to expose wrongdoing and hold powerful public figures and officials to account,” the letter concludes. “Such vital news reporting depends upon journalists’ ability to identify, investigate, and report stories without fear that the subjects of their reporting will target them or their newsroom with costly, meritless litigation.”