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House Committee Passes Libel Tourism Bill

The House Judiciary Committee passed a bill Thursday that would block so-called libel tourism, according to its sponsor

Libel tourism is the practice of suing U.S. journalists in foreign courts where there is less press freedom than they are afforded by the First Amendment in the U.S. While it is primarily a print issue, the Islamic Society of Boston sued both the Boston Herald and a local Fox TV station in 2006 for alleging its ties with terrorism. It eventually dropped the case.

“I believe our First Amendment rights to be among the most sacred principles laid out in the Constitution, and I will use all of my powers as a Congressman and member of the Judiciary Committee to ensure that these rights are never undermined by foreign judgments," said bill sponsor Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee Thursday in announcing its passage in the committee.

The bill, HR 2756, prohibits "recognition and enforcement of foreign defamation judgments."

In a speech to the Media Institute last fall, noted First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams talked of the importance of such legislation, saying England has become "a choice venue for libel plaintiffs from around the world, including those who seek to intimidate critics whose works would be protected in the U.S. under the First Amendment but might not in that country. That English libel law has increasingly been used to stifle speech about the subject of international terrorism has raised the stakes still more."