Forty years in the making: Colorado’s anti-SLAPP law protecting those who speak out

Colorado Politics: It goes like this: Speak out against a company or maybe a public official, and you could get sued. Not because you said something that was slanderous or libelous, but because you spoke out at all.

It’s known as a SLAPP, or a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. It stems from the least-known part of the First Amendment. Everyone’s familiar with the clauses on establishment of religion, freedom of the press, and the right to assemble. It’s that fourth, lesser-known clause from where SLAPPs come: The right to petition the government for redress of grievances.

But exercising that right can expose someone who speaks out to legal risk from a SLAPP suit.

The term SLAPP actually originates right here in Colorado and dates back some 40 years, according to one of the two people who came up with it: Law professor emeritus George Pring of the University of Denver. He and then-professor Penelope Canan of sociology started looking at lawsuits filed against those who spoke out against environmental problems back in the late ’70s. 

That turned into the 1996 book SLAPPs: Getting Sued for Speaking Out. To date it’s the only book written exclusively on the issue.

In the 2019 Colorado legislative session, lawmakers approved an anti-SLAPP bill — House Bill 1324 — that will give some measure of protection to those who get sued for bringing issues to the attention of elected officials or simply for speaking out. 

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