Tue. Feb 18th, 2020

Good News: Virginia Legislature Passes Anti-SLAPP Law

We pointed out recently that Devin Nunes’ ongoing campaign to file vexatious nuisance defamation lawsuits, usually in Virginia (despite being a Congressman from a California farm that is now in Iowa), had helped renew interest in having Virginia finally getting a real anti-SLAPP law. And, thanks in part to Nunes’ suits getting so much attention, the Virginia state legislature has now passed an anti-SLAPP bill:

The Virginia legislature passed bills Tuesday that would make it harder to pursue frivolous lawsuits designed to chill free speech, a response to a string of splashy defamation cases filed in state courts by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), actor Johnny Depp and others.

Free speech advocates cheered the legislation in the House and Senate, saying the state’s weak anti-defamation law has made Virginia a magnet for dubious litigation aimed at punishing critics and blunting aggressive media coverage on topics of public concern.

The details are still being worked out. The House and Senate passed different versions of an anti-SLAPP bill, so they need to be reconciled before a final bill can go to the governor. What ends up in the final bill will be important in seeing how good and effective an anti-SLAPP bill this will be, but it sounds like the basic pieces are all there:

Alison Friedman, of the Protect the Protest task force that is backing the bills, said she is guardedly optimistic about passage.

“Substantively, all the parts for a strong anti-SLAPP bill are there, but half are in the House bill and half are in the Senate bill so it’s really going to come down to conference,” Friedman said.

Of course, we still need a strong federal anti-SLAPP bill to tie all of these together and make sure that anti-SLAPP can be used across the country in federal court (some appeals courts have — with questionable reasoning — argued that state anti-SLAPP laws only apply in state courts).
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