Rachel Maddow and Aaron Walker SLAPP Lawsuits Are a Slap to our Freedom of Speech

Rachel Maddow is an American television host, political commentator, and author, who has been called a left-wing socialist and the “Whore of the Left.” Aaron Walker is an attorney and blogger, who has been called “the man who has taken upon himself to launch an all out attack on everything that the left stands for.” So what do these two political pundits at the opposite end of the political spectrum have in common? They were both targeted by frivolous lawsuits for exercising their First Amendment rights to speak out on issues of public interest. 

As I have written about before on PolicyMic, SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) are damaging lawsuits that chill free speech and healthy debate by targeting those who speak out on issues of public interest. SLAPPs are used to silence and harass critics by forcing them to spend money to defend themselves against these baseless suits. Put simply, SLAPP filers don’t go to court to seek justice; rather, SLAPPS are intended to harm and intimidate those who disagree with them or their activities by draining the target’s financial resources.

Earlier this week, a lawsuit against Rachel Maddow was ruled a SLAPP by a Washington D.C. judge who ordered the SLAPP filer to pay Maddow $24,625.23 in attorney’s fees. The defamation suit against Maddow was filed by Bradlee Dean, an anti-LGBT preacher from Minnesota. Dean sued Maddow after she ran a story on The Rachel Maddow Show, where she aired a segment from Dean’s radio show where he said that Muslims were “more moral than even the American Christians” because they were “calling for the execution for homosexuals.” Luckily for Maddow, Washington D.C. enacted a strong anti-SLAPP law last year, which allowed her to bring a motion to have the case dismissed and her attorney’s fees awarded. 

Also recently, in what was called a “great day for first amendment rights,” Aaron Walker was able to have an Order overturned by a Maryland judge, allowing him to continue blogging freely without fear of frivolous lawsuits. Brett Kimberlin, co-founder of an activist organization and a non-profit organization, was originally successful in getting an Order obtained against Walker for blogging about him, because it was “harassment, stalking, and threatening to him, his family, and his businesses.” Walker was later able to have that order overturned when a judge ruled that nothing Mr. Walker had done, said, or written fell under the Maryland statutes relating to harassment, stalking, or Peace Orders.

While Maddow and Walker may not be politically aligned, it would seem that their shared experience as targets of frivolous lawsuits would make them both appreciate the need for federal anti-SLAPP legislation. Both of these cases clearly illustrate the need for such  legislation, which would further strengthen and protect the First Amendment rights of all Americans, regardless of party affiliation. 

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Evan Mascagni

Director & Producer, Toxic Profits (www.toxicprofitsfilm.com). Partner, Zero Bound (www.zerobound.com). Attorney, California Anti-SLAPP Project (www.casp.net). Legislative Assistant, Public Participation Project (www.anti-SLAPP.org).

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