Right Question

Asking the right question is usually more productive than trying to prove the right answer.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

What Good's the First Amendment, Now?

The British Courts have gone completely insane. It is hard to know how to respond to their bizarre overreaching -- if Britain weren't such an important ally I'd think laughing and pointing would be appropriate, but as the facts are... it's simply flabbergasting.

The latest (Editor & Publisher via Power Line) example is a Saudi billionaire suing for libel over claims that he funds terrorism. That seems fine -- even billionaires deserve a day in court. The insanity is that a British judge feels he has jurisdiction to hear a case by a Saudi against an American author for a book that's never even been published in Great Britain. The infamously low standards for libel cases in British courts -- especially the fact that the defendant has an obscenely high burden of proof, in which the mere truth of a statement may not be sufficient defense -- makes this jurisdictional assault also an assault on our First Amendment protections.

Think I'm exaggerating -- what about this case -- in which an American politician is being tried in British courts for statements during an American political campaign, in which his spokesman denied allegations made by a British citizen against him. This denial itself is said to have been defaming the British journalist's reputation for truthfulness. Now an American politician, by virtue of having denied an allegation in the middle of a political campaign, is being called on to show up in a foreign court and prove the allegations false.

See also Don King's suit, also over statements made by an American about an American in talking to the American press.

What good is the protection of the First Amendment if foreign courts can impose their own sanctions on that once-protected speech? Are American journalists and politicians -- reporting in American papers and running for American political office -- expected to adhere to British constraints on their speech? Why stop there? Why not haul them into court in China if they criticize Chinese officials? Why not haul church leaders into court in Saudi Arabia for blasphemy? In general, I'm wary of slippery-slope arguments. But in this case, we're already well down the slope.


Blogger Iron Teakettle said...

I know the case. Absent a treaty, the British court's judgment is not enforceable in the United States. Even if there were such a treaty, it could be challenged -- it would have to be in accordance with our Constitution.

The author should not travel to England. She may want to avoid the entire EU altogether.

A few years back, the Singapore oligarchy was very upset at William Safire. That went nowhere, also.

7:36 PM, May 04, 2005  

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