The Kansas House of Representatives earlier this week passed the Enacting the Public Speech Protection Act (HB 2054) by a nearly unanimous 123-1 margin. If its overwhelming support in the House is any indication, the bill is on track to become the state’s first anti-SLAPP law, making Kansas the 30th state in the nation to pass a law to address abusive litigation aimed at thwarting free speech.
SLAPPs, or “strategic lawsuits against public participation,” are lawsuits designed to intimidate or silence critics unfairly. They are highly effective, even if they are without legal merit, since the costs associated with fighting them are so prohibitive. Other states with longstanding anti-SLAPP statutes, such as California, have shown how instrumental they can be in protecting free speech.
While most states have some form of law on the books to combat SLAPPs, there is still no federal standard. As my colleague Cameron Smith wrote in his recent paper for R Street on anti-SLAPP laws:
The patchwork of state laws with varying provisions is healthy evidence of federalism in action, but those protections may be insufficient if and when a defamation action moves to federal court.
That’s why a broad coalition, including R Street, has called on Congress to pass H.R. 2304, the SPEAK FREE Act. This bill that would combat SLAPPs by giving defendants across the nation access to a special motion to dismiss. It also would empower individuals to fight meritless lawsuits aimed at intimidation and censorship. Over at Popehat, Ken White has a great explainer for those interested in diving deeper into the issue.