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The history of California’s anti-SLAPP legislation

On Behalf of | Dec 22, 2023 | Anti-SLAPP

In the late 20th century, California grappled with a growing concern: Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. These lawsuits often stifle free speech and intimidate individuals engaging in public discourse. In response to this threat, California enacted the anti-SLAPP legislation to protect citizens’ right to express their opinions without fear of legal reprisals.

Powerful entities typically filed SLAPP lawsuits against those expressing opinions on matters of public concern. The aim was not necessarily to win the case but to burden the defendants with the costs and stress of legal proceedings. The effect of these lawsuits was to silence them.

Enactment of the anti-SLAPP legislation

In 1992, California took a bold step to counteract the chilling effect of these suits by enacting the anti-SLAPP legislation. The primary goal was to provide a swift and cost-effective way for defendants to dispose of meritless lawsuits filed in retaliation for exercising their right to free speech. This legislation also frees up time in the court system for more severe cases with merit.

Key provisions of the anti-SLAPP legislation

The anti-SLAPP legislation allows defendants to file a motion to strike the complaint. This motion asserts that the legal action arises from protected speech or petitioning activity. If successful, this can lead to the dismissal of the case and the award of legal fees to the prevailing party.

Evolution and impact

Over the years, California’s anti-SLAPP legislation has evolved. Given an A+ rating by the Institute for Free Speech, the law’s impact has been profound, providing a powerful shield against the threat of retaliatory lawsuits aimed at suppressing free expression. It has effectively limited the ability of powerful organizations to restrain dissent.

This legislation continues to be a cornerstone of California’s legal system. It reinforces the state’s commitment to protecting the fundamental right of its citizens to engage in public discourse without fear of reprisals.