A political group originally formed to prevent lawsuit abuse is being criticized for seeking to dismantle a state law designed to protect citizens from abusive lawsuits.

SLAPP —“strategic lawsuits against public participation”—are aimed at silencing individuals who speak out on controversial issues or people, typically by alleging they have engaged in defamation.

The Texas Citizens Participation Act protects citizens from frivolous lawsuits that aim to silence their free speech, right to petition, or right to association. It allows individuals and organizations to quickly dismiss legal actions filed primarily to intimidate or burden them for exercising these rights. 

Under the TCPA, if a defendant can show that a lawsuit is based on their protected activities, the court can dismiss the case early and potentially award legal costs to the defendant.

During the last legislative session, Texans for Lawsuit Reform supported legislation designed to limit TCPA motions, though their efforts ultimately failed.

Since then, the Republican Party of Texas platform has been updated to protect the TCPA explicitly:

“Texas shall keep the Texas Citizens Participation Act (TCPA) intact and preserve its broad scope and essential protections for 1st Amendment Rights.”

TLR has continued criticizing the TCPA in its most recent newsletter.

The Protect Free Speech Coalition is fighting to protect the law.

JT Morris, senior attorney at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression which is a part of the coalition, stressed the importance of keeping the TCPA in place.

“The TCPA protects Texans from facing frivolous lawsuits simply for exercising their freedom of speech. Gutting the TCPA will only benefit people who want to abuse the court system to silence their critics,” Morris told Texas Scorecard.

Attorney Tony McDonald agreed, calling the TCPA “the most important law protecting grassroots Texans from crippling litigation.” 

“Recent legislative efforts to change the law would gut its protections and make the law totally unreliable for Texans,” he added.

In a statement to Texas Scorecard, TLR spokesperson Lucy Cafrelli said that while the organization supports the goals of the TCPA, they argue it is being used to delay legitimate cases.

“TLR unequivocally supports the two goals of the Texas Citizens’ Participation Act as stated in the law itself—to protect the constitutional rights of free speech and access to the courts. It’s clear the law is not functioning as the Legislature intended. Instead, it is being used by some lawyers to endlessly delay legitimate cases that have nothing to do with the First Amendment. TLR’s advocacy to the Legislature has been to ensure the TCPA truly achieves its dual goals of protecting free speech while also protecting access to the courts. Any suggestion to the contrary is false,” said Cafrelli.

Brandon Waltens

Brandon serves as the Senior Editor for Texas Scorecard. After managing successful campaigns for top conservative legislators and serving as a Chief of Staff in the Texas Capitol, Brandon moved outside the dome in order to shine a spotlight on conservative victories and establishment corruption in Austin. @bwaltens