Name: Bader Alkhathlan
Professor: John Harte
Explore and discuss the role anti-SLAPP legislation and sunshine laws plays in protectingthe rights of ordinary citizens to participate in the democratic process. Be sure to citesome specific examples
The United States Constitution grants every citizen petition and freedom of speech to take part in the civic and government affairs. The constitution protects the citizen’s freedom of speech on public issues and interests, and petition the government officials for amendment of grievances. However, despite the protection by the constitution; many individuals, organizations, and community groups are sued for practicing their rights and freedom of speech. The suits are known as SLAAPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation), they arise when individuals or organizations oppose the interested parties on public issues. Though most of SLAPPs can be legally meritless, they succeed in attaining their main purpose which is to discourage public debates on certain issues (Quinlan, 2014). SLAPPS have become a common tool for terrorizing and intimidating the critics of the business. An anti-SLAPP law was meant to serve as a remedy for the increasing SLAPP lawsuits.
The person sued makes a motion to end the case since it involves issues to do with public concern, this occurs in a majority of the statute. When a person brings a SLAPP lawsuit against an individual attempting to enjoy their freedom of speech, it is commonly based on a defamation claim. This is the main reason why the anti-SLAPP law was invented since the SLAPP lawsuits attack the First Amendment rights directly. According to Quinlan (2014), the main role of the Anti-SLAPP laws is to protect people against lawsuits of questionable standard that are usually filed to terrorize speakers to ensure they keep off from criticizing a person, an organization or even a project. The Anti-SLAPP laws came to the rescue of innocent citizens who practice their freedom of speech without knowing they would get into trouble. Fighting the lawsuits is difficult as it is expensive and consumes a lot of time before settling. Therefore, individuals end up losing too much in the lawsuits process which most of the time are settled in the plaintiff’s favour. The Anti-SLAPP laws were put in place to relief individuals who enjoy their rights as stipulated by the constitution from being victims of the Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.
In addition to the Anti-SLAPP laws that the government has put in place to ensure that the citizen’s rights are well protected; the government has also enacted the sunshine laws. They are laws requiring transparency in the decision-making process. The laws stipulate that the local government should hold open meetings with the public to give room for individuals to address the public body (Fischman, 2012). The sunshine laws give the public a chance to address the government entities and give a framework for citizens to be consistent with the regulation adopted by the public body. The constitution stipulates that, under the freedom of information act, citizens have a right to inspect and obtain copies of the public documents. This is in accordance with the regulations and procedures stipulated in the act. The sunshine laws are the best ingredient for making sure that the government functions in a way that serves the people instead of power.
According to Fischman (2012), the sunshine laws vary from one state to the other, even though the laws may not guarantee that the members of the society will be allowed to address the agency; they are guaranteed that the media and the public as well may attend the meetings. The participants are allowed to record and take notes of the meeting, however, this is allowed in some states as others believe the process may be destructive to the meeting. The laws are important as they enable the media and the public to be part of the decision making process. This gives the citizens a voice in matters regarding the governance of the state which is their main concern. When some matters such as acquisition or sales of public property is opened to the public for discussions; it shows how transparent such activities are and this makes the local government trustworthy to the public. Other matters that are crucial to the citizens such as the hiring or firing an individual who is a public face may also be conducted in public meeting. Other than showing transparency to the public, the laws also give the citizens a sense of belonging in the state.
Even though the two anti-SLAPP, and the sunshine laws are different, they have a common objective which is to protect the rights of ordinary citizens to participate in the democratic process. As earlier mentioned, every citizen has a right to enjoy their freedom of speech; however, if one faces a SLAPP lawsuit in a country where there is a strong Anti-SLAPP statute, one has a number of options compared to state without an anti-SLAPP statute where the options are limited (Roth, 2016). The laws play a major part in ensuring that an individual does not fall the victim of the lawsuit that only focuses on silencing citizens with a different perspective. With the anti-SLAPP laws, even if one loses a motion to dismiss the judgement; then one can request an appeal with the court of appeal. Without the anti-SLAPP laws, it is impossible to request for an appeal; therefore, this gives an individual another chance to present their case and thus another chance of winning the lawsuit increases.
With the anti-SLAPP laws, if an individual wins a SLAPP lawsuit; he or she is entitled to the actual costs incurred during the litigation. Such cost incurred during the process include court reporter fees, filing fees and many more. In addition to that, an individual should recover even the attorney’s fees. Therefore, the anti-SLAPP laws play a major role in ensuring that the sued party maximizes their chance of winning the lawsuit by proving one’s innocence. Without the anti-SLAPP laws, even if one wins; they are only entitled to recovering back only the litigation process cost, the attorney’s fees are not recovered (Sherwin, 2016). The anti-SLAPP laws ensure that the sued party has enough tools to fight back against the SLAPP lawsuit. Through the anti-SLAPP laws, the sued party can be able to save money and time; this is possible since once an individual has filed an anti-SLAPP motion, he or she can proceed to receive a ruling and seek fees even if the plaintiff abandons the case later.
The sunshine laws not only benefit the public in matters of the public issues, through them the states open mandatory government records in the private businesses. This ensures that all the records received and managed by the government whether at the state, or locally is subjected to the open records act (Fisher, 2015). This records are kept open, they include all the records that are involved when a privately owned company transacts or bids a business with any agency of the government. This transparency is crucial to the public who often question the transparency of the government activities. It also enables the public to seek clarification on matters that requires transparency, such matters include the criteria by which certain tenders open to the public were awarded to other individuals. According to Fisher, (2015), the sunshine laws, therefore, brings about mutual consent on matters involving the public whether in the private sectors on in the public sector. Whether at different levels depending on the state, the sunshine laws end up giving the public a chance to address the agency by taking place in the decision making process or clarification on how some decisions came about to be formed.
The sunshine roles not only ensures that the government activities are on the limelight, the laws also keep democracy alive. Involving the public to participate in their decision making the process not only shows them how concerned the government is but also gives them a sense of belonging. The laws increases the national cohesion that intends to address and reduce the ethical conflicts that arise due to some arising misunderstandings. The fact that the government gives the public a chance to get involved in matters of the agency, ensures that things get done in accordance with the interest of the citizens. This ensures that there is a mutual understanding between the government and the citizens (Fisher, 2015). The fact that any interested party is free to attend the public meeting, there is room for great ideas that the government may consider while undertaking their activities. Through that, then decisions that are developed from such meeting contains the participation of the public and the government which most find themselves in a conflict of interests. It is therefore right to say that the reducing conflicts between the government and the public is a major role of the sunshine laws.
In conclusion, the anti-SLAPP and the sunshine laws have a common aim which is to protect the individuals from intimidation after exercising their First Amendment rights. People may face some lawsuit which is meant to silence them in the public sphere, this may occur if they criticize some the ideas given regarding some public issues. The constitution has given the citizens the freedom of speech, some of the individuals and or organization may seek to intimidate these rights stipulated by the first amendment act. However, the anti-SLAPP laws came in to protect these right from being violated. According to Roth (2016), they are designed to ensure there is an early dismissal of such meritless lawsuits that are filed against individuals for exercising their rights. The anti-SLAPP laws give the sued individuals options, therefore most states should embrace this law seems they aim at protecting the citizens against intimidation and terrorization from individuals who prefer things done their way. In addition to the anti-SLAPP laws, the sunshine laws also give the citizens a chance to be part of the decision-making process in issues regarding the agency. These are laws requiring transparency during the decision-making process, the government does so by inviting the public and the media in their meeting. As earlier mentioned, both laws focus on ensuring they protect the rights of ordinary citizens to participate in the democratic process.
Fischman, J. L. (2012). Cloud Over Florida’s Sunshine Laws. U. Fla. JL & Pub. Pol’y, 23, 73.
Fisher, K. (2015). Communities in the dark: the use of state sunshine laws to shed light on the fracking industry. BC Envtl. Aff. L. Rev., 42, 99.
Quinlan, C. (2014). Erie and the first amendment: State anti-SLAPP laws in federal court after shady grove. Colum. L. Rev., 114, 367.
Roth, A. L. (2016). Upping the Ante: Rethinking Anti-SLAPP Laws in the Age of the Internet. BYU L. Rev., 741.
Sherwin, R. T. (2016). Evidence? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’Evidence!: How Ambiguity in Some States’ Anti-Slapp Laws Threatens to De-Fang a Popular and Powerful Weapon Against Frivolous Litigation.