Judiciary Committee Approves Leahy-Sponsored, Bipartisan Bill To Prevent Enforcement Of Foreign Defamation Judgments

WASHINGTON – The Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday unanimously approved bipartisan legislation to protect American authors, journalists and publishers from foreign libel lawsuits that undermine the First Amendment.  The Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage (SPEECH) Act was introduced last month by Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.).

The SPEECH Act provides protections from foreign libel suits for authors, journalists, and publishers, and prevents a U.S. federal court from recognizing or enforcing a foreign judgment for defamation that is inconsistent with the First Amendment.  The bill also provides a separate declaratory judgment remedy for an author or publisher who wishes to demonstrate that a foreign judgment would not be enforceable under American law, even where the foreign party has not attempted to enforce the judgment in the United States.  This provision would allow authors and publishers to clear their names, regardless of the actions of the foreign party.

“The SPEECH Act ensures that American journalists, authors and publishers are protected from foreign libel lawsuits that chill their First Amendment rights,” said Leahy.  “The First Amendment is a cornerstone of American democracy.  Freedom of speech and the press enable vigorous debate over issues of national importance, and enable an exchange of ideas that shapes our political process.  The SPEECH Act would prevent an American court from enforcing a foreign libel judgment that is inconsistent with the First Amendment or our due process requirements.”

The SPEECH ACT is supported by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Vermont Library Association, the American Library Association, the Association of American Publishers, renowned First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, and the former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, James Woolsey. 

The House of Representatives last year approved similar legislation.  During an executive business meeting on Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee adopted the Leahy-Sessions SPEECH Act as a substitute to the House-passed bill.

The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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