Home » News » Okla. House sustains governor’s veto to protect speech rights

By Dennis Hetzel, published on June 6, 2023

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Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt. AP Photo

Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and the state’s House of Representatives have stopped a bill that would have undermined protections for citizens facing frivolous lawsuits simply for exercising their free-speech rights.

According to reporting by the Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs, The Oklahoman and others, Stitt vetoed legislation to substantially weaken Oklahoma’s “anti-SLAPP” law.

“SLAPP” stands for Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, a practice in which lawsuits are filed for the primary purpose of harassing and discouraging critics from exercising their free speech to criticize a person, organization or entity in a matter of public interest. Such lawsuits tie up the defendant in expensive legal proceedings with the possibility of having to pay heavy damages, deterring others from speaking out as well. The plaintiff is less interested in winning the case than in hassling the perceived critic and chilling public debate.

Anti-SLAPP laws generally create an expedited court process in which a case can be dismissed with the plaintiff paying the defendant’s legal fees unless the plaintiff can provide enough evidence at an early date to show there isn’t bad-faith intent to limit freedom of speech.

Such cases have been documented across the country, ranging from business owners suing Yelp reviewers to lawsuits filed by giant corporations to discourage citizen groups from protesting their practices.

The Oklahoma Citizens Protection Act mirrored that standard until the state Legislature passed House Bill 1236 that removed the requirement for courts to impose those penalties by changing the word “shall” to “may” on the penalty provisions, making the mandatory penalties optional.

The OCPA reported that the Institute for Free Speech ranked Oklahoma’s current anti-SLAPP law among the best in the nation. A bipartisan group of legislators voted to sustain the veto, and diverse groups including numerous news organizations, the ACLU, right-to-life groups and taxpayer organizations supported Stitt’s veto. 

In his May 22 veto message for HB 1236, Stitt wrote: “Currently, defendants who secure dismissal of lawsuits under the Act are entitled to mandatory costs, attorney fees, other expenses, and potential sanctions. The Bill would make discretionary what is now mandatory. Such a change would undermine the Act’s purpose, ensuring a greater frequency of frivolous lawsuits against Oklahomans exercising free speech.”


SLAPP Suits | The First Amendment Encyclopedia (mtsu.edu)

Stitt saves anti-SLAPP law – BatesLine (Tulsa political blog)

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