Leading up to the Georgia Supreme Court’s June hearing in a case with significant First Amendment implications, the Georgia First Amendment Foundation has once again partnered with UGA School of Law’s First Amendment Clinic to urge the high court to correct a lower court decision that weakens free-speech protections in Georgia.
In the latest friend-of-the-court brief in ACLU v. Zeh, filed April 29, the foundation argues that the Court of Appeals of Georgia failed to apply the “actual malice” standard when determining whether a defamation lawsuit against the ACLU survived a motion to strike under Georgia’s anti-SLAPP statute. It expands upon a previous friend-of-the-court brief, filed July 23, 2020.
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.