At a time of increasingly public protests, the Supreme Judicial Court recently reaffirmed its commitment to protecting speech here in Massachusetts. Under Masschusetts’s Anti-Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation law (“Anti-SLAPP”), defendants can move to dismiss a lawsuit filed against them if that lawsuit targets their attempt to influence a government body or seek help from one. It had always been clear that when a person attempts to influence the government on their own behalf – in other words, to vindicate their own interests – the statute protected that activity. But in Cardno ChemRisk v. Cherri Foytlin et al., the Court made clear that the statute extends to citizens’ right to advocate not just for themselves, but also for others.
Massachusetts is one of twenty-eight states with Anti-SLAPP protection. These statutes buttress a basic constitutional right: The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects the right “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” That means that every person has a right to influence government bodies – by, for example, protesting in the town square or testifying at a hearing – without fear of reprisal. But citizens’ protests can often frustrate powerful, non-governmental interests. And when they do, those powerful interests may use courts to try to stop or stifle the speech. Anti-SLAPP statutes protect citizens from those suits. Continue reading