In reflecting on the last year, we at the Protect the Protest task force are in awe of the power of community organizing. We believe in the strength of people across the country demanding racial justice, climate accountability, and safe and equitable working environments. At the same time, we are furious at the methods employed by the uber wealthy and powerful to silence and punish dissenters. If we want a better future, we must put a stop to bullying lawsuits designed to silence people like you and me.
It is thus with great shame and sadness that we present the third annual SLAPPies, the anti-award show where we highlight the serial SLAPPers of the year in hopes of putting an end to this abusive legal tactic once and for all. SLAPP suits, or Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation, are a type of lawsuit aimed at silencing critics. Typically, corporations and powerful people use this abusive tactic to intimidate activists and journalists with expensive, lengthy, and stressful litigation.
This year, we are focusing on one particularly urgent site of resistance: higher education. As students and employees demand their own safety be prioritized, those in power are pushing for a return to a violent and discriminatory baseline. Already, we’re seeing increases in campus organizing and unionization in the face of unsafe learning environments, administrative changes that make union strikes much more difficult, attempts at banning critical race theory, and administrative pushes for potentially fatal in-person classrooms.
So, without further ado…
Valedictorian: Jeffrey Lax
Taking a page from Chevron’s playbook of using frivolously litigious methods to silence dissent, City University of New York (CUNY) professor Jeffrey Lax is suing a group of faculty at Kingsborough Community College (KCC). In addition to carrying out his duties as chair of the Business department at KCC, Professor Lax has been indefatigable in bringing legal actions against his colleagues. Fresh off losing a federal employment discrimination case first filed in 2016, with legal representation from The Lawfare Project, Prof. Lax has now filed a new action against CUNY, KCC, and a group of politically progressive faculty members, and their union, the Professional Staff Congress. Prof. Lax’s ongoing legal activity is rightly seen as an attempt to intimidate his employer, harass his colleagues, and silence political dissent.
Salutatorian: Gibson & Dunn
It is no secret that law school is unreasonably expensive. As new attorneys emerge with an astronomical debt load, this Vault 100 firm coaxes them in with the promise of financial stability—but as a serial SLAPP firm, Gibson & Dunn uses its immense resources to advance environmentally disastrous cases. In response, Law Students for Climate Accountability launched the #DoneWithDunn campaign in 2021, demanding transparency and ethical litigation. Gibson & Dunn was also directly involved with the prosecution of Steven Donziger, among other convoluted legal intimidation tactics.
All things considered, it’s almost like these SLAPPers are all learning to game the same system… Hmm… If you’re as angry about this as we are, we urge you to join our fight against SLAPP lawsuits. Right now, most states don’t have explicit anti-SLAPP legislation, meaning these corporate cronies can intimidate activists with impunity. We want to put an end to this practice. We want the movements and organizers demanding justice to do so without fear of getting served with a court summons. We want the better future they’re advocating for.
Dishonorable Mention: Chevron
It wouldn’t be the SLAPPies without a special award for one of the most litigious companies of all, Chevron! Though not directly tied up in any classroom controversy, we would be remiss to not grant this lifetime achievement award to Chevron, the oil giant who SLAPPed public defender Steven Donziger and a group of Ecuadorian organizers for speaking out after Chevron intentionally dumped billions of gallons of toxic oil into the Amazon. The Ecuadorian Supreme Court ruled in favor of the organizers, but Chevron never paid the [amount] the court ordered. Though the Ecuadorian organizers weren’t subject to U.S. laws, Chevron brought the case against Donziger to the U.S., where Donziger was convicted in the Southern District New York court in July, marking a historic and terrifying legal success for corporate greed and power-hungry polluters.