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Senators introduce new libel tourism bill in committee

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  1. Libel and Privacy
Two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday introduced bipartisan legislation aimed at protecting authors and journalists from libel…

Two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday introduced bipartisan legislation aimed at protecting authors and journalists from libel lawsuits filed abroad.

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 invalidate libel judgments levied against Americans elsewhere that could not have been obtained in the United States due to First Amendment protections. It does not go as far as other libel tourism bills under consideration in Congress that would allow libel defendants to counter-sue the plaintiffs who bring such claims against them in foreign courts, which makes the bill less controversial and possibly more appealing to members of Congress.

The proposed legislation, which was modeled on a law in New York State that was inspired by an author who faced a libel tourism suit over a book on terrorism financing, states that foreign defamation judgments cannot be enforced in the United States if they are inconsistent with American law. It also allows individuals to clear their name by obtaining a declaratory judgment in a United States court.

"Journalists writing about issues of national security and safety should not be chilled,” Leahy said this week in a statement. “These lawsuits are designed to stifle the dissemination of that information in both the United States and the world.  Journalists willing to investigate and write about such important issues deserve protection."

The committee will begin discussing the proposed legislation sometime next week.