Congress Shall Make No Law...
5:37 PM
First Amendment Victory! Texas Appellate Court Slaps Down Effort to Silence Eminent-Domain Critic

Readers of Make No Law are used to hearing stories about how the courts can be used to protect First Amendment rights.  Less well known is that courts can be abused to attack First Amendment rights.  That’s what happened in 2008 when a Texas developer named H. Walker Royall brought a defamation lawsuit against journalist Carla Main. 


Main had written a book, Bulldozed: “Kelo,” Eminent Domain, and the American Lust for Land, that told the story of how Royall teamed up with the city of Freeport, Texas, in a project that would displace a long-running family business by using eminent domain for private gain.  Royall didn’t like the way the book portrayed his role in this abuse of government power, so he sued Carla Main and her publisher, Encounter Books, for defamation.  He even sued renowned law professor Richard Epstein for contributing a blurb to the book’s back cover.


The lawsuit was a blatant attempt by Royall to bully his critics into silence.  And yesterday afternoon, a Texas appellate court held that there was no merit to Royall’s charges.


The ruling is great example of judicial engagement.  Royall claimed that 79 separate statements in Main’s book were defamatory.  He also claimed that the overall “gist” of the book was defamatory.  But the court examined the evidence for each of these 79 claims and found that none of them—not one—was supported by the evidence.


The ruling is also a big win for First Amendment rights.  Eminent domain abuse is a matter of public concern—that’s why journalists like Carla Main write books about it.  If Royall had succeeded in silencing Main and her publisher, the chilling effect on speech would have been profound. 


Finally, the ruling will serve as a helpful adjunct to Texas’s newly enacted Citizens Participation Act, which was enacted in part because of Main’s case.  That new law creates a procedure that allows journalists like Main to quickly dismiss abusive defamation cases like Royall’s, which are commonly referred to as “SLAPP suits” (SLAPP is an acronym for “strategic lawsuit against public participation”).  Texas is the 28th state to adopt some form of anti-SLAPP legislation.


Congratulations to Carla Main, Encounter Books, Richard Epstein, and all of my colleagues who had a hand in the victory. 


For more information about Main’s case, visit IJ’s case page for Texas Eminent Domain Censorship.