President Obama Signs Cohen SPEECH Act Into Law
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. House of Representatives today passed for the second time this Congress legislation Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-9) authored – the Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage (SPEECH) Act – that protects American authors, journalists and publishers from foreign defamation judgments that undermine the First Amendment and American due process standards. The measure, which the Senate amended and passed last week, now heads to President Obama to be signed into law.
“Libel tourism threatens to undermine free speech in the U.S. because, with the rise of the Internet and foreign courts’ liberal exercise of personal jurisdiction over Americans, foreign defamation law that lacks the constitutionally mandated speech-protective features of U.S. law can be applied to publications that are substantially or entirely distributed in the U.S.,” said Congressman Cohen, who attended the bill signing at the White House. “Our First Amendment rights are among the most fundamental principles laid out in the Constitution. It is vital we ensure that these rights are never undermined by foreign judgments. I appreciate Senators Leahy and Sessions helping guide this bill through Congress to become law.”
Congressman Cohen recently spoke on the House floor about his legislation. Click here to see his remarks.
“Libel tourism” refers to forum shopping by defamation plaintiffs seeking to exploit plaintiff-friendly defamation laws in foreign countries in an attempt to silence or intimidate American journalists, authors and publishers. The issue of libel tourism came to the forefront as a result of the case of Ehrenfeld v. bin Mahfouz, which involved a U.S. author who was sued for libel in England by a Saudi billionaire.
The author, Rachel Ehrenfeld, was unsuccessful in her effort to have an English default judgment against her declared unenforceable in the U.S. This prompted the New York State Legislature to enact legislation – the first of its kind in the U.S. – prohibiting enforcement of a foreign libel judgment unless a court in New York determines that it satisfies the free speech and press protections guaranteed by the U.S. and New York State constitutions.
Last year Congressman Cohen – who chairs the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law – chaired a hearing where Dr. Ehrenfeld testified. The Congressman’s legislation passed the House of Representatives last year and was modified by the Senate and approved in July. The Senate sponsors of the measure are Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy and Ranking Member Jeff Sessions.
The measure is supported by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Vermont Library Association, the American Library Association, the Association of American Publishers, the American Civil Liberties Union, renowned First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, and the former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, James Woolsey.