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Senate backs libel help for US writers abroad

July 19, 2010

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WASHINGTON—The Senate on Monday unanimously passed a bill to protect American authors, journalists and publishers from foreign libel judgments that undermine the United States' guarantee of free speech.

The voice vote sent the bill to the House for final action.

U.S. federal courts would be prevented from recognizing or enforcing a foreign judgment for defamation that is inconsistent with the free speech guarantee in the U.S. Constitution.

Defendants in foreign cases could obtain a U.S. court order declaring that a foreign judgment would not be enforceable under American law.

Chief sponsor Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said the bill would prevent U.S. courts from becoming a tool to undermine the Constitution.

Some countries with weak free speech protections make it easy to sue foreigners for libel -- a practice known as "libel tourism."

"On a broad scale, libel tourism results in a race to the bottom, and can cause Americans to defer to the country with the most chilling and restrictive free speech standard, to determine what they can write or publish," Leahy said. "This undermines our First Amendment."