Free speech 1, Saudis 0: New York passes libel tourism protection act

posted at 11:12 am on April 2, 2008 by Allahpundit

Via Democracy Project, it’s the perfect companion piece to today’s news in the LA Times about our friends in the Kingdom retaining pride of place as bankrollers of Sunni jihadists worldwide. Old school HA readers will remember libel tourism as Bryan’s beat, starting with this essential background post on how wealthy Wahhabis silence their critics. You don’t have to kill them; suing them in countries with muscular libel laws and weak free speech protections, like Britain, is usually sufficient to suppress their work and intimidate publishers into staying away. The capper came in December, when New York’s highest court ruled that a British libel judgment entered against Rachel Ehrenfeld, an American critic of the Saudis, would be enforceable even on U.S. soil because the court had no jurisdiction over the Saudi libel plaintiff and therefore couldn’t grant an order under the First Amendment protecting Ehrenfeld from the judgment. Which, in effect, meant that Americans no longer had free speech rights even in America, so long as their work ended up overseas and subjected them to suit there.

That disgrace has now been expunged:

The New York State Legislature today unanimously passed the “Libel Terrorism Protection Act” (S.6687/A.9652), sponsored by Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Queens) and Senate Deputy Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos (R-Rockville Centre)…

The Libel Terrorism Protection Act declares overseas defamation judgments unenforceable in New York unless the foreign defamation law provides, in substance and application, the same free speech protections guaranteed under our own constitution, and it gives New York residents and publishers the opportunity to have their day in court here in New York.

“This is a great day for free speech and freedom of the press, and I urge Governor Paterson to quickly sign this legislation into law. This law will protect our journalists and authors from trumped up libel charges in kangaroo courts in overseas jurisdictions which don’t share our commitment to free speech and freedom of the press,” said Lancman.

I put a question to the techies in the last post — which isn’t wholly unrelated to this one — so let me put one to the lawyers this time: Assuming they hadn’t passed this act, what should Ehrenfeld’s next move have been? The problem isn’t the constitutional claim, it’s getting jurisdiction over the Saudi plaintiff; the Second Circuit suggested as much when it ruled in her favor last June. Any holdovers from Federal Jurisdiction class want to take a crack?


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Ms. Ehrenfeld needs to sue for recovery of any attorney fees and any other expenses caused by “our friends.” They have enough $ to tie us up in courts and fund terrorism, so sue them back (plus give ‘em a whack to the back of the head).

perroviejo on April 2, 2008 at 11:17 AM

Free speech – what a beautiful thing.

JustTruth101 on April 2, 2008 at 11:30 AM

Ok, I have to say it now.

Liberal tourism ??

Gaurav on April 2, 2008 at 11:35 AM

I’m surprise about this free speech victory. More than a few NY politicians would like to muzzle the press to hide their corruption. We are lucky to get this bill passed. I assume that Governor Paterson is forced to sign it?

Maybe, I’m too pessimistic, but I doubt this bill would pass Congress.

thuja on April 2, 2008 at 11:36 AM

For New York pols, this is a free shot at the Saudis, aside from being the right thing to do — it’s not as if someone’s going to campaign this fall against anyone in the state legislature on the grounds of restricting free speech because of Saudi objections, no matter how much some liberals want foreign court opinions to be held as law within the United States.

jon1979 on April 2, 2008 at 11:48 AM

I need to read the decision. The lack of jurisdiction would only be an issue if that terrorist funder tried to collect on or otherwise enforce his British judgment in America (e.g. in a New York court). In general, American courts have jurisdiction over any individual who seeks to avail themselves of those courts.

secarr on April 2, 2008 at 12:07 PM

HA! Suck on that, Hubbardites.

fusionaddict on April 2, 2008 at 12:29 PM

V for Victory!

Swinehound on April 2, 2008 at 12:29 PM

It should be libel terrorism in the headline

Gaurav on April 2, 2008 at 12:40 PM

Hmmm…this should throw a wrench not only in the legal machinations of the Jihadis, but also the Scientologists, who have used the same tactics against critics.

The bigger problem, though, lies not in the ability to file such abominable lawsuits, but in the judges who pass this stuff on without a single bit of critical analysis. They are the true rotten core of the justice system.

MadisonConservative on April 2, 2008 at 12:40 PM

I thought this had already been reported two months ago? I wrote about it myself at the time. Nevertheless, it’s good to hear about it now too. Thank goodness.

Avi Green on April 2, 2008 at 12:42 PM

Well, ok I’m a lawyer, so here goes:

I can’t imagine that the Plaintiff could attempt to enforce the judgment here in America without subjecting himself to the jurisdiction of US courts. After all, availing himself of our legal system in order to engage in collection efforts would easily subject anyone to US jurisdiction. You can’t employ the courts as a weapon and then claim you aren’t subject to them.

The only problem was that a court refused to issue an order declaring the Saudi’s judgment in the UK unenforceable because it was not at issue: he wasn’t trying to enforce it here. Therefore it isn’t really fair to him when he really isn’t subject to US jurisdiction. The proper procedure is to ignore the judgment until he attempts to enforce it through a lawsuit filed here, then oppose that lawsuit.

As far as I can tell, there is nothing outrageous or unusual going on here.

kaltes on April 2, 2008 at 1:31 PM

Maybe, I’m too pessimistic, but I doubt this bill would pass Congress.

Yes it would. The First Amendment trumps even Saudi oil money, in public.

In private? I wouldn’t give you odds.

Meryl Yourish on April 2, 2008 at 1:43 PM

The British libel laws are the real problem. They’re employed to protect the House of Windsor. The Saudis know this. All they have to do is call the Queen and tell her to issue a decree. That gets the parts moving rather quickly.

My first question, why did Ehrenfeld file an appeal to the New York courts and not the Federal Courts?

gabriel sutherland on April 2, 2008 at 1:47 PM

Islam always can fall back on tried and true tactics like murder and assassination. More of a mess but even more chilling to the population. Ask Theo Van Gogh’s friends.

BL@KBIRD on April 2, 2008 at 1:49 PM

I’m surprise about this free speech victory. More than a few NY politicians would like to muzzle the press to hide their corruption. We are lucky to get this bill passed. I assume that Governor Paterson is forced to sign it?

Maybe, I’m too pessimistic, but I doubt this bill would pass Congress.

thuja on April 2, 2008 at 11:36 AM

the nice thing about that, you can slide it under him and ask him to sign please.. he wouldn’t be the wiser unless someone told him..

DaveC on April 2, 2008 at 2:34 PM

Here’s eight minutes with Ehrenfeld discussing the case when it went to court.

eeyore on April 2, 2008 at 2:42 PM

V for Victory!

Swinehound on April 2, 2008 at 12:29 PM

Or turn the V around for a good Anglo-Saxon “screw you“.

Tzetzes on April 2, 2008 at 3:10 PM

kaltes on April 2, 2008 at 1:31 PM

Like kaltes said.

And surely jihadi-funder funds some jihadis with a website. A website that’s accessible from New York. Wouldn’t running a jihadist website bring an expectation of being haled into court? Especially in New York.

OK, it’s a novel argument. That’s what lawyers are for.

misterpeasea on April 2, 2008 at 4:03 PM

Assuming they hadn’t passed this act, what should Ehrenfeld’s next move have been?

To have ignored the judgment and gone about her life, except to stay out of the countries where it is enforceable. Which, of course, she still needs to do since neither the NY statute nor the U.S. Constitution will do her much good while traveling abroad.

The problem isn’t the constitutional claim, it’s getting jurisdiction over the Saudi plaintiff; the Second Circuit suggested as much when it ruled in her favor last June.

Unless and until the plaintiff sued on the judgment in New York, there’d be no way to enforce the judgment there. Once the plaintiff did sue in NY court, jurisdiction over the plaintiff would have become a non-issue, and Ehrenfeld would have been free to assert a First Amendment defense. She almost certainly would have prevailed under that theory, so apart from giving her two substantive defenses rather than one, I’m not sure what this new law is supposed to accomplish.

Xrlq on April 2, 2008 at 5:10 PM

I haven’t read enough of the background of this thing to be sure: But it seem to me that seeking an order preventing the enforcement of the foreign judgment go things backwards. Just because the defendant could not get an affirmative order of a court preventing the judgment’s enforcement, does not mean that a US court would have enforced the judgment. Two different things.

seanrobins on April 2, 2008 at 6:23 PM

A concern: Does a State have the Right to enact a Law that regards a foreign power? Is that even at issue?

hadsil on April 2, 2008 at 10:00 PM