Governor Signs Bill Safeguarding Free Speech from Malicious Lawsuits

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has recently signed the ‘Uniform Public Expression Protection Act’, a bipartisan legislation aimed at protecting individuals from meritless lawsuits that are intended to intimidate them for exercising their free speech rights. The new law establishes an expedited process for the dismissal of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP), which have historically been used to silence journalists, academics, advocates, and whistleblowers.

SLAPP lawsuits are commonly used by powerful entities and individuals to silence critics or individuals who bring legitimate issues to public attention. The purpose of these lawsuits is to make it financially and logistically burdensome for individuals with fewer resources to defend themselves legally. With the new legislation, defendants will now be able to seek the expedited dismissal of these lawsuits, ensuring a quicker resolution and reduced financial burden.

Under the provisions of the bill, eligible defendants can file paperwork requiring the plaintiff to demonstrate the basis for the lawsuit. The court must then consider and resolve the issues in a prompt manner. This streamlined process aims to dismiss these cases quickly, rather than dragging them through lengthy court proceedings. In addition, related legal proceedings may be put on hold until the request for expedited dismissal is resolved, providing further relief to defendants.

The legislation also includes provisions for defendants to recover legal fees if the lawsuit is ultimately dismissed. This serves as a deterrent to frivolous lawsuits and ensures that individuals exercising their free speech rights are protected from unwarranted legal action. The new law received support from various entities, including the ACLU of New Jersey, New Jersey Press Association, and the Motion Picture Association.

New Jersey now joins other states in adopting an anti-SLAPP law, becoming the sixth state to specifically enact strong protections based on the Uniform Law Commission’s ‘Uniform Public Expression Protection Act’. The sponsors of the legislation, Senator Joseph Lagana, Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, Senator Jon Bramnick, Assembly members Carol Murphy and Kevin J. Rooney, lauded the law as a means to prevent the weaponization of lawsuits and protect individuals from financial hardships.

The enactment of this law is a significant milestone for the state of New Jersey, as it enables the early resolution of SLAPP lawsuits. By limiting the harms faced by individuals engaging in constitutionally protected activity, the legislation promotes robust anti-SLAPP laws. With this new protection in place, individuals can engage in public protest and advocate for issues of public importance without fear of punitive legal action.

The ‘Uniform Public Expression Protection Act’ ensures that the constitutional rights of individuals are upheld and serves as a safeguard against unjust lawsuits filed to suppress free speech. Governor Murphy’s support of this legislation signals the state’s commitment to protecting the principles of free speech and artistic freedom. With numerous endorsements from various organizations, it is clear that the new law has received widespread support from those who value and fight for the preservation of free speech.

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