FAQs about SLAPPs

1. What is a SLAPP?

The rights to speech and petition are enshrined in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Free speech and healthy debate are vital to the well-being of a democracy. In fact, the United States Supreme Court has said that the right to petition the government is the very foundation of our democracy.

SLAPPs are Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.  These damaging suits chill free speech and healthy debate by targeting those who communicate with their government or speak out on issues of public interest.

SLAPPs are used to silence and harass critics by forcing them to spend money to defend these baseless suits.  SLAPP filers don’t go to court to seek justice.  Rather, SLAPPS are intended to intimidate those who disagree with them or their activities by draining the target’s financial resources.

SLAPPs are effective because even a meritless lawsuit can take years and many thousands of dollars to defend.  To end or prevent a SLAPP, those who speak out on issues of public interest frequently agree to muzzle themselves, apologize, or “correct” statements.

2. What do SLAPPs look like?

SLAPPs take the form of a variety of lawsuits. They commonly masquerade as defamation or business interference tort suits. Civil rights, anti-trust, and intellectual property laws have all been used to bring SLAPPs. However, SLAPP filers can be very creative. Recently, a union was SLAPPed by a corporation that alleged that the union’s organizing activities constituted a conspiracy under federal organized crime laws.

3. Who is affected by SLAPPs?

Just as SLAPPs take a variety of forms, so too do SLAPP targets. Almost anyone who dares to share an opinion can be SLAPPed. Homeowners and tenants protesting development projects, consumers reporting on products, and workers filing complaints about health and safety violations have all been SLAPPed.

4. How Can I Help Stop SLAPPs?

Urge Congress to pass federal anti-SLAPP legislation.

Congress needs to hear from you!  Please urge your Members of Congress to cosponsor federal anti-SLAPP legislation.  This important legislation will protect Americans who speak out on matters of public concern and before public proceedings.  Almost half of the states do not have anti-SLAPP laws, and those that do have laws of varying strength and breadth. Moreover, federal claims in federal court are not subject to state anti-SLAPP laws. This is why federal anti-SLAPP legislation is needed now – it would protect Americans in all states and at the federal level.  For more information about federal anti-SLAPP legislation click here.  Send this letter to urge your Members of Congress to cosponsor federal anti-SLAPP legislation.