Activists fighting libel suit in Clarksville, Tenn.

Members of the Clarksville Property Rights Coalition (CPRC) have been battling local officials, who are looking to redevelop an area of the city that encompasses over 1800 properties. Although city officials made some minor adjustments to the plan, the CPRC has continued to fight to ensure that the city does not use eminent domain in its economic development plan.

As part of that fight, the CPRC took out an ad in the local paper; the ad noted the fact that a couple of local officials involved in the project are also developers and stand to benefit from the project. For this mere exposition of fact, members of the CPRC have been sued for libel.

Today the Institute for Justice joins the fight in Clarksville, making sure that local officials who abuse the 5th amendment don’t also stamp out local activists’ 1st amendment rights to protest the abuse of eminent domain.

From IJ’s press release:

On May 3, the CPRC ran an ad in the local newspaper, The Leaf-Chronicle, criticizing Clarksville’s proposed redevelopment plan and its backers, including Swift and Wilkinson. Swift is not only a developer, but also a member of the Clarksville City Council—an elected official with the ability to vote for eminent domain for private development. Wilkinson is a member of Clarksville’s Downtown District Partnership.

The ad, noting that both Swift and Wilkinson are developers, said, “This Redevelopment Plan is of the developers, by the developers, and for the developers.”

Six days after the ad appeared, Swift and Wilkinson sued the group and its members for defamation.

“Swift and Wilkinson are thin-skinned bullies trying to silence and intimidate their critics with frivolous litigation,” said Bert Gall, an Institute for Justice senior attorney. “All citizens have a First Amendment right to speak out against government abuse—without getting sued for their speech by the very people whose actions they are protesting.”

Indeed, political criticism like the CPRC’s ad occurs every day and has been a mainstay of debate on public issues since America’s founding.

“If politicians and public figures could sue anyone who criticized them, everyone in America would need a lawyer,” added Gall. “But under the First Amendment, you shouldn’t need a lawyer to speak out about politics.”