Inside Public Integrity

Published — October 26, 2021

Public Integrity joins argument in free press court case


The Center for Public Integrity has joined Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting and three other nonprofit news organizations in submitting a friend-of-the-court brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in a press freedom case.  In the case of CoreCivic Inc., v. Candide Group LLC, the brief argues for affirming a lower court decision that provisions of California’s anti-SLAPP law apply to a defamation action in federal court.

SLAPP stands for “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.” Anti-SLAPP laws are intended to prevent corporations and others from filing frivolous lawsuits intended to intimidate citizens or bury them in legal fees after they comment on or participate in government deliberations.

The brief argues that state anti-SLAPP laws provide critical protections for the news media, especially nonprofit organizations engaged in investigative journalism. In some cases, they allow a news publisher to collect attorney’s fees if a plaintiff brings a meritless defamation lawsuit.

Reveal and Public Integrity were joined by the First Look Institute, the Marshall Project and ProPublica in signing the brief. The First Amendment Clinic at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law prepared the brief.

Public Integrity, one of the country’s oldest nonprofit investigative news organizations, is a leader in its use of FOIA litigation to obtain documents and data from government agencies. Among news media requesters, only The New York Times, Buzzfeed and Jason Leopold, now with Buzzfeed, have filed more FOIA lawsuits during the past two decades, according to a study by the FOIA Project at Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

Last month, Public Integrity sued the Department of Defense and the South Dakota National Guard seeking public release of records related to a decision by South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem. She deployed the Guard to the Texas-Mexico border earlier this year in a move that raised questions about private funding of military actions and use of the military for political purposes.

Last year, the Trump administration agreed to pay Public Integrity nearly $40,000 to reimburse the organization’s legal costs in separate lawsuits that forced the Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, federal Office of Management and Budget and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to comply with the Freedom of Information Act in releasing documents. Those related to then-Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, searches at the border and the Ukraine scandal that led to Donald Trump’s first impeachment.

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