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LSU Journal for Social Justice & Policy

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civil liberties, litigation, defamation law, strategic lawsuits, causes of action


Civil Rights and Discrimination | Law | Litigation


Defamation law is a catchall term encompassing civil claims for reputational harm to an individual, including slander and libel. Defamation claims originated in English common law and have since evolved within the American legal system. Scholars have characterized the law of defamation as “a forest of complexities, overgrown with anomalies, inconsistencies, and perverse rigidities” and as a “‘fog of fictions, inferences, and presumptions.’” Amid these inherent variations and complexities of defamation law and litigation — including the largely state-specific nature of tort law development — emerges a disturbing trend across jurisdictions. In the modern era, defamation claims have been used not to protect purported victims on the receiving end of false claims, but rather to punish and silence individuals advancing truthful information or critical statements of opinion. These burgeoning lawsuits, known as strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP suits), threaten free speech principles.

This paper first introduces defamation causes of action and contextualizes the emergence of SLAPP suits. Section II provides a more detailed analysis of several emerging cases that underscore who may be most vulnerable to such claims — including victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, as well as individuals speaking out against racial discrimination and non-white individuals more generally — and illuminates the burdens that these claims impose on defendants. Section III provides an analysis of anti-SLAPP legislation as well as the limitations of current policies. Section IV provides some recommended solutions and suggested next steps. Section V provides a brief summary and conclusor remarks



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