On December 22, a three-judge panel of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals issued a verdict in Penn State professor Michael Mann’s defamation case against NR, Mark Steyn, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and Rand Simberg. Our editorial, published the following day, charged that the ruling was “badly mistaken,” that it was “an unprecedented threat to the freedom of speech,” and that NR would “seek a prompt rehearing from the full D.C. Court of Appeals, followed if necessary by a petition for review in the United States Supreme Court.”
On the former of those two actions: Today our counsel filed that rehearing petition. You can read the petition, here. Among its points, a most important one is that the judges’ ruling was a “curtailment of core First Amendment rights,” thereby raising an issue of “exceptional importance” requiring a rehearing by the full court. The NR petition concludes by emphasizing the ruling’s threat to established free-speech protections:
The importance of this issue is especially acute in the nation’s capital, where vigorous debate over climate change and similar issues is the very lifeblood of deliberative democracy. The panel’s decision strikes at the heart of this process, and it will cut both ways: Dr. Mann himself has blasted his opponents for engaging in “pure scientific fraud,” “knowingly lying about the threat [of] climate change,” and issuing “deceptive . . . report[s]” on the topic. NR Br. 6-7. Under the panel’s reasoning, big oil companies and other well-heeled interests can begin launching their own lawsuits asking juries in Texas or Oklahoma to silence such criticism. The panel thus opens a dangerous new frontier in the strategic use of lawsuits to silence political opponents. This Court should act now and spare the Supreme Court the task of eliminating this extreme outlier in the nation’s First Amendment jurisprudence.
Stay tuned. And in the meanwhile, if you would like to support National Review’s legal defense, of itself and of the First Amendment, please consider making a contribution here.