Redskins owner Daniel Snyder’s decision to sue the Washington City Paper over a critical commentary has drawn the attention of a member of Congress, who thinks it’s time to enact legislation to provide greater protection of the First Amendment rights of people facing such suits.
As pointed out by Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post, U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Tennessee, wrote in Roll Call that the type of lawsuit filed by Snyder is dangerous, and that Congress should pass a law protecting both individuals and publications like the City Paper from suits like Snyder’s.
“Snyder’s lawsuit against the newspaper highlights a much more serious issue -— the need for federal legislation to protect the First Amendment rights of all Americans against strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPPs,” Cohen wrote. “The City Paper’s column was admittedly harsh but well within the bounds of free speech, especially about a public figure. Snyder was understandably angry, but instead of fighting speech with more speech, he chose to use the courts for his personal revenge. Whatever you may think of Snyder and the Redskins, the courts are not the appropriate forum for resolving these sorts of grudges.”
According to Cohen, lawsuits like Snyder’s are dangerous because if a billionaire wants to, he can sue his enemies and bury them in legal fees, even if the lawsuit has no merit.