By SUN SENTINEL EDITORIAL BOARD, SOUTH FLORIDA SUN SENTINEL
NOVEMBER 29, 2020
The constitutional right of Americans to sound off to their governments is a fundamental issue that ought to unite everyone in its defense, and often does. So it does again in an appeal that deserves to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, given the Florida Supreme Court’s deplorable decision to duck the case.
The issue is whether a citizen can speak her mind without being SLAPPed with a ruinous lawsuit. That’s what
happened to Maggie Hurchalla, a Martin County environmentalist, for trying to oppose a billionaire’s deal to store water in his rock mine and sell it to Martin County. He sued her and won a $4.4 million judgment she is unable to pay.
SLAPP is the acronym for Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, an all-too-common lethal weapon in the arsenal of corporate America in recent years. Some states have laws that forbid using the courts to intimidate citizens into shutting up and minding their own business. Florida doesn’t. It should.
In that yawning void, Hurchalla has found significant allies from across the political spectrum. One of the friend-of-the-court briefs supporting her appeal represents the Cato Institute, the Institute for Justice and the “Protect the Protest” Task Force. Cato is an influential libertarian public policy shop devoted, according to the brief, “to advancing the principles of individual liberty, free markets and limited government.” It was co-founded by Charles Koch, the petrochemical billionaire who has spent a good deal of his fortune pushing a right-wing agenda. The Institute for Justice is a nonprofit public interest law firm often associated with conservative positions on school choice and government regulation. The “Protect the Protest” Task Force represents an array of mostly liberal organizations, including the ACLU.
Another brief has been filed on behalf of six environmental organizations, including the Florida Wildlife Federation, Friends of the Everglades, and Bullsugar, as well as a Colorado kayaking company and a Massachusetts nonprofit devoted to animal welfare.
They share an interest in free speech. So do we all.
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