CONTACT: IJ — John Kramer or Lisa Andaloro at (202) 955-1300
"Uninhibited, robust, and wide open" Public Debate
Mackinac Center — Joe Lehman at (989) 631-0900
Feared Lost If Case Goes To Trial
Washington, DC — In a case with no disputed facts, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy this week will ask the Michigan Court of Appeals to dismiss a frivolous lawsuit brought against it by the Michigan Education Association. In December, the lower court ordered the case to trial thereby allowing the MEA’s intimidation tactic of trying to silence opponents with lawsuits to continue. The MEA filed its lawsuit after the Mackinac Center accurately quoted the MEA’s president when he called a press conference during which he stated, ". . .frankly, I admire what [the Mackinac Center has] done."
The central question presented by the appeal, filed by the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice, is whether participants in public policy debates may use the threat of litigation to chill their opponents’ speech and force them to engage in self-censorship. The Mackinac Center and the Institute for Justice answer that question with a resounding "no."
Clark Neily, an Institute for Justice senior attorney, said, "Proceeding to trial would severely undermine the principle that debate on public issues should be 'uninhibited, robust, and wide open' as established by one of the U.S. Supreme Court’s leading First Amendment precedents, New York Times v. Sullivan. The MEA’s goal in filing suit against the Mackinac Center has apparently been to ensure that debate on educational issues in Michigan would be inhibited, mild and closed."
Neily argues in a brief to be filed on Tuesday, January 7, 2003, "Failure to dismiss [the MEA’s] claims at this stage would also jeopardize the ability of Michigan citizens to comment upon the activities of large, well-funded organizations like the Michigan Education Association without undue fear of reprisal."
Pretrial appeals of cases presenting important public policy issues or uncontested facts are commonly granted in Michigan. If the Court of Appeals denies the motion, the case will proceed to trial on March 3, 2003, despite the fact that there are no disputed issues of fact between the parties.
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[NOTE: To arrange interviews on this subject, journalists may call John Kramer, the Institute for Justice’s vice president for communications, at (202) 955-1300.]