Congressional subcommittee holds hearing on federal anti-SLAPP bill

While the Democratic sit-in protesting gun control garnered the nation’s attention this week, a less publicized piece of legislation gained traction in the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee. The Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice heard testimony Wednesday on the SPEAK FREE Act (H.R. 2304), a federal anti-SLAPP bill. The bill extends speech protections for defendants subject to SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) to federal court and to states without anti-SLAPP laws.

Currently, 28 states, the District of Columbia, and the territory of Guam have enacted anti-SLAPP statutes with varying degrees of protection. SLAPPs are brought against those exercising their speech rights under the First Amendment and on matters of public concern. Often the goal of SLAPPs is to silence critics by subjecting them to costly and burdensome litigation. Anti-SLAPP laws grant defendants of these suits mechanisms in which to quickly dismiss claims, stay discovery, and receive attorney’s fees. These laws deter litigants from filing speech-chilling lawsuits.

The SPEAK FREE Act, introduced by Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tx) in May 2015, permits anti-SLAPP protections to apply in federal court and in states lacking an anti-SLAPP law.

Wednesday’s hearing (video here) included testimony from Bruce D. Brown, Executive Director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press; Aaron Schur, Senior Director of Litigation at Yelp, Inc.; Laura Prather, Partner at Haynes and Boone, LLP, and board member of the Public Participation Project; and Alexander Reinert, Professor of Law at Cardozo School of Law.

For more on the hearing, visit the Reporters Committee’s website here.

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Consumer Review Freedom Act aims to void non-disparaging clauses in contracts

Clicking “accept” has become a mundane practice in the 21st century. It’s a right of online passage, a mere prerequisite for surfing the web.

But do you know what you agree to when you habitually click accept? More than common forum shopping or arbitration clauses, you may be giving up your right to speak freely or own intellectual property. Often these clauses attempt to muzzle users looking to post online reviews of services.

The Consumer Review Freedom Act (CRFA)(S.2044, H.R.2110) seeks to eliminate these freedom-sucking terms from common contracts, both on and offline. The bill would forbid non-disparagement clauses in form contracts.

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CRFA would void clauses that:

  1. Restricts the customer’s ability to post a review of the vendor,
  2. Imposes a fee against customers for leaving negative reviews, or
  3. Transfers any intellectual property rights in a review to the vendor.

The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing on the bill Nov. 4.

For more on CRFA, visit the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Bill introduced to permit cameras in Supreme Court

A bi-partisan group of legislators stood in front the United States Supreme Court on Thursday to introduce the Eyes on the Court Act of 2015. The law would require the United States Supreme Court and other federal appeals courts to broadcast video coverage of court proceedings.

Efforts to open up the most secretive branch of government have failed in the past, but advocates of the bill cite the current mistrust in the Supreme Court and the bipartisan support as reasons why the Eyes on the Court Act could garner momentum.

Additionally, the bill boasts an option for closing proceedings if the broadcast would “violate the due process rights of a party to the proceeding or is otherwise not in the interests of justice.”

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-New York), Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Virginia), Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Illinois), and Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) back the bill.

“How is it possible that we can keep up with the Kardashians, but we cannot keep up with the Supreme Court?” Rep. Nadler asked at the press conference in front of the Supreme Court.

Gregg Leslie, legal defense director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court, also attended the press conference. Leslie told the audience studies have shown that cameras do not affect oral argument participants.

The Second and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have already successfully implemented broadcasting oral arguments.

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