As the co-lead organizer of Empire State Indivisible, I have participated in countless actions speaking out against injustice, bad policy and politicians, and big corporations and special interest groups that seek to harm my community. Speaking out is our first amendment right. Our history is filled with heroic stories of writers, journalists, activists, and everyday people speaking out, dissenting, and exposing.
The practice of slapping down those who speak truth to power via strategic lawsuits against public participation or SLAPPs is not only unconstitutional but a direct threat our participatory democracy.
Over the last four years our current president has trolled, bullied, and threatened his enemies or anyone who speaks out against him. This president has been doing this for years via our legal system with SLAPPs.
Trump filed his first SLAPP in 1984 against the Chicago Tribune’s Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic, Paul Gapp, demanding $500 million in damages. Gapp had ridiculed Trump’s proposal to build the tallest building in the world: a 150-story, nearly 2,000-foot tall skyscraper on a landfill at the southeast tip of Manhattan. Gapp wrote it was “one of the silliest things anyone could inflict on New York or any other city.”
Trump lost this suit, the judge presiding over the case said, “Men in public life … must accept as an incident of their service harsh criticism, ofttimes unfair and unjustified — at times false and defamatory — and this is particularly so when their activities or performance may … stir deep controversy”
Unsurprisingly, Donald Trump did not listen and made a practice of frivolous but strategic lawsuit designed to shut down first amendment protected criticism, dissent and whistle blowing. And Trump is not alone, powerful people, big corporations, and other entities use SLAPPS to shutdown our first amendment protected right to free speech.
We are five days away from voting Trump out of office but that will likely not end his practice of frivolous lawsuits against anyone who speaks out against him. And this will embolden others to do the same. We need to stop strategic lawsuits against public participation now in New York State.
Bill S.52A/A.5991A sponsored by Senator Hoylman and Assembly Member Weinstein and passed by the New York State Legislature need to become law so we can end Trump’s predatory misuse of our legal system as the American people end his presidency.