Foundation urges high court to secure free speech protections in Georgia

The Georgia Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments in a case with significant First Amendment implications, adding ACLU v. Zeh to its June 2021 calendar.

The Georgia First Amendment Foundation partnered with UGA School of Law’s First Amendment Clinic last year in urging the high court to correct a lower court decision in ACLU v. Zeh that weakens free-speech protections in Georgia. The friend-of-the-court brief, filed July 23, 2020, argues that the state Court of Appeals failed to apply the “actual malice” standard when determining whether a defamation lawsuit survived a motion to strike under Georgia’s anti-SLAPP statute.

Strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPPs, once emboldened litigants seeking to use groundless defamation and other claims to chill free speech in Georgia. In 2016, the foundation supported efforts by CNN and other media companies to curb SLAPPs in the state. We recognized the Motion Picture Association of America for working to educate and encourage state lawmakers to institute an anti-SLAPP statute. The resulting law was the most effective legislative protection of free speech rights in Georgia in 20 years.

In ACLU v. Zeh, the lower court ruling erodes the strength of that law, chilling the right to speak or report on allegations made in legal proceedings, or on legislative activities and other newsworthy public affairs. We believe allowing the lower court ruling to stand would inhibit newsgathering, reporting and public debate.

Go to the First Amendment Clinic’s website for background on the case and a summary of the legal arguments.

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