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Senate committee passes libel tourism prevention bill

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  1. Libel and Privacy
The Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday morning unanimously passed bipartisan legislation aimed at protecting authors and journalists from libel lawsuits filed…

The Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday morning unanimously passed bipartisan legislation aimed at protecting authors and journalists from libel lawsuits filed abroad.

If enacted by the full Senate, the SPEECH — Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage — Act, sponsored by Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., would not allow U.S. courts to enforce foreign libel judgments against U.S. defendants that are inconsistent with First Amendment protections. The practice of filing suit in a foreign country just because of the more lax standards on libel is known as "libel tourism."

The law was modeled on a law in New York state that was inspired by an author who faced a libel tourism lawsuit over a book on terrorism financing. The bill allows defendants to clear their names by obtaining a declaratory judgment in a United States court.

“We take seriously the challenge of getting this right — to be respectful of foreign nations, many of whom are allies. But at the same time we could have a major detriment to the right to publish and speak freely in America if we don’t confront this problem,” Sessions said.

Committee chairman Leahy noted that the proposed legislation has public support from The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the American Association of Publishers, national and state library associations, First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams, former Attorney General of the United States Michael Mukasey, and former CIA director James Woolsey.

Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., urged quick action in the Senate.

“This is important legislation with the agreement of both ides of the aisle; this might be one item we could move through with some dispatch,” Specter said. “So I would urge the Committee to press the majority leader to bring it up and let’s do something.”