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

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?