H.R. XX: Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act

H.R. XX

Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act

Sponsor
Rep. Steve Cohen

Date
July 27, 2010 (111th Congress, 2nd Session)

Staff Contact
Sarah Makin

Floor Situation

Senate Amendments to H.R. 2765 is expected to be considered on the floor of the House on Tuesday, July 27, 2010, under a motion to suspend the rules, requiring a two-thirds vote for passage.  The legislation was introduced by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) on June 9, 2009.  

The House Judiciary Committee’s Committee reported H.R. 2765 on June 15, 2009, and the House passed the bill under suspension of the Rules by voice vote the same day. 

The Senate Judiciary Committee conducted a hearing on libel tourism on February 23, 2010, and reported H.R. 2765 with amendments on July 14, 2010 (Leahy/S. Rept. 111-224). The Senate adopted the bill as amended by unanimous consent on July 19, 2010.        

For the legislative digest for H.R. 2765, passed by the House on June 15, 2009, click here.

Bill Summary

Due to concerns that the House-passed bill by was not vigorous enough to dissuade a libel tourist from filing an overseas suit, the Senate made the following changes:

 

  • The substitute contains a findings section that elaborates the need for the legislation;
  • The substitute requires the foreign plaintiff who seeks to enforce a foreign judgment in a U.S. court to bear the burden of proving that the foreign court comported with the due process requirements of the U.S. Constitution in asserting jurisdiction over the American defendant.  This flips the burden of proof;
  • The substitute contains a provision that allows an American defendant to remove a state court enforcement action brought by a foreign plaintiff to U.S. District Court. 
  • The substitute allows an American defendant against whom a foreign defamation judgment is entered to bring a declaratory judgment action in U.S. District Court to determine whether the judgment is “repugnant to the Constitution or the laws of the United States.”   
  • The substitute requires the U.S. District Court, “absent exceptional circumstances,” to award attorneys’ fees to the American defendant if he prevails.

Background

The term “libel tourism” refers to the subject of a critical news story suing an American author or reporter of an article, story, or book for defamation in a “plaintiff-friendly” overseas forum. These suits are filed mostly in Great Britain, as its libel and slander laws provide writers and journalists less protection than those under the U.S. system that features the First Amendment.  Persons identified in news stories as terrorists or terrorist sympathizers have brought some of the higher-profile suits.

Cost

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that H.R. 2765 would have no significant effect on the federal budget.  Furthermore, because the legislation would not affect direct spending or revenues, pay-as-you-go procedures would not apply.