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November 10, 2006

FOREIGN ENTITIES TRYING TO END-RUN THE FIRST AMENDMENT?

A federal appellate court heard arguments yesterday in the case of a New York-based counterterrorism researcher who was ordered by a British court to pay and apologize to a Saudi billionaire she accused of funding terrorism.

One judge on the three-judge panel yesterday expressed reservations about the British court order. Still the questions from the judges of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals suggested that they had significant doubts that the court has jurisdiction to toss out the British court's judgment in the libel case.

Publishers and news organizations are bound to read the American court's forthcoming decision in the case. The case comes at a time of raised interest in "libel tourism"— the phenomenon of foreigners filing libel suits in British courts based on claims that American judges would quickly toss out on First Amendment grounds. Whether American courts can block those judgments, or at least certain of their provisions, is a question none of the judges yesterday appeared especially eager to tackle. And the court expressed little interest in the First Amendment concerns that legal observers say are present in the case.

This deserves more attention than it gets.

My advice to Saudis who don't want to be accused of supporting terrorism: Get your country to stop being a major source of funds for terrorists. That's better than engaging in legal terrorism against a free press of the sort that isn't allowed in your own benighted country.