This Sunday’s New York Times ran an editorial, ‘Libel Tourism’: When Freedom of Speech Takes a Holiday. When plaintiffs file defamation suits in U.S. courts, they always have the First Amendment looking over their shoulders. Defamation suits in the U.K. have no such encumbrances. Accordingly, a few sleazy defamation plaintiffs learned that they may as well file in the U.K. As a result, New York passed a state law that prohibits libel tourism judgments from being enforced in that state. See New York steps up to the plate – passes “Libel Terrorism Protection Act” Congress is working on a similar measure.
The editorial notes:
“Libel tourism” is a threat to America’s robust free-speech traditions, which protect authors here. If foreign libel judgments can be enforced in American courts, there will be a “race to the bottom”; writers will only have as much protection as the least pro-free-speech nations allow. (source)
While I couldn’t agree more with the author, I’m surprised that nobody has raised a similar alarm with respect to interstate libel tourism. Some U.S. states’ constitutions provide greater protection for expression than the First Amendment demands. Other states refuse to extend free speech rights any further than the Bill of Rights compels them to.
Citizens of speech protective states are often dragged into court in states that feel no compulsion to go beyond the bare minimum. While international libel tourism is a blight, interstate libel tourism threatens the very notion of federalism and creates a similar “race to the bottom.”