May 19, 2003

DAVE KOPEL WRITES that Congress should bar “junk” lawsuits that are actually aimed at infringing people’s constitutional rights:

Suing someone in revenge for their lawful exercise of First Amendment rights is known as a SLAPP – a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. Many legislatures have enacted laws against such litigation abuse, and congressional action against one particular form of SLAPP is a good first step towards a nationwide ban on all SLAPPs.

The form in question? Well, read on:

At an American Bar Association symposium in 1999, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys for the antigun lawsuits explained that the attorneys had read the Dun & Bradstreet reports on the firearms companies, estimated how much the companies could spend defending themselves against litigation, and then filed so many cases in so many jurisdictions that the gun companies would not be able to spend the money to see the cases through to a verdict. . . .

There is no right to file abusive lawsuits that chill the exercise of constitutional rights. That is why the Supreme Court, in the 1964 case New York Times v. Sullivan, restricted libel suits that infringed on First Amendment rights. Pennsylvania, like most other states, has enacted legislation affirming that gun laws should be made by the legislature, not by trial attorneys trying to end-run the democratic process.

Sounds like an evil, anti-rights conspiracy to me. Somebody investigate these guys. You know that the New York Times would be all over them — and rightly — if this were a conspiracy to bankrupt abortion providers via frivolous lawsuits.

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