In June, the Washington City Paper, which I used to edit, pushed for dismissal of the libel suit filed by Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. The basis for the paper’s argument? The District’s statute that combats Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation (SLAPP).
In a brief filed last night, Snyder’s lawyers say that their client will not only prevail on the merits of his case, but that the District’s anti-SLAPP law isn’t even constitutional. The problem, say Snyder & Co., is that the law comes out of the chambers of the D.C. Council. And when it comes to all things related to the D.C. courts, the D.C. Council is powerless. The brief quotes from the Home Rule Act, which created the council and its limitations:
The Council shall have no authority to...enact any act, resolution, or rule with respect to any provision of Title 11 of the District of Columbia code (relating to organization and jurisdiction of the District of Columbia courts).
Come again? Does that mean that the city’s legislative body can’t affect its own local courthouse? Yes.
“The reach of the Home Rule Act is a very good argument,” says Steven Schneebaum, a partner at the law firm of Greenberg Traurig LLP and author of an article on D.C. courts. “The Home Rule Act restricts the ability of the city council to tinker with the jurisdiction or the procedures of the D.C. courts.”
Hold on here: Doesn’t Congress approve every law passed by the District, including the anti-SLAPP bill?
Indeed, but Schneebaum says that’s a weak basis on which to defend the constitutionality of the anti-SLAPP law. The congressional mechanism for signing off on D.C. legislation, after all, is a passive one. If Congress doesn’t actively object to pending legislation, then it is allowed to become law.
“Arguing that by not disapproving it, Congress has implicitly changed — implicitly amended provisions of the Home Rule Act [regarding the courts] — that’s rather a stretch.”
“It’s good legal jousting,” says Schneebaum, who has no involvement with the case but is a Redskins fan and has had his picture taken with the plaintiff.
(Disclosure: I am a former editor of Washington City Paper, though I had no involvement in the story in the Snyder case.)
NOTE: Post has been updated to strike the ampersand from the name of Greenberg Traurig and to add disclosure.