Should the American Bar Association (ABA) be in the business of censoring its committees’ reports? Should the fear of being sued be enough to cause a major legal organization to whitewash an opinion against a political candidate like Donald Trump?
The ABA has refused to publish a report issued by its committee of medial lawyers about Donald Trump’s libel suits. The report, entitled “Donald J. Trump Is A Libel Bully But Also A Libel Loser” starts out:
“Trump and his companies have been involved in a mind-boggling 4,000 lawsuits over the last 30 years and sent countless threatening cease-and-desist letters to journalists and critics.
But the GOP presidential nominee and his companies have never won a single speech-related case filed in a public court.”
But that language didn’t make it to publication, and the New York Times says that’s because the ABA was afraid of a libel lawsuit by the Donald. The Times got its hands on an internal ABA communication from deputy executive director James Dimos which said:
“While we do not believe that such a lawsuit has merit, it is certainly reasonable to attempt to reduce such a likelihood by removing inflammatory language that is unnecessary to further the article’s thesis. . . . Honestly, it is the same advice members of the forum would provide to their own clients.”
Susan Seager, the author of the report, says that the censorship validates her report’s findings.
“The A.B.A. took out every word that was slightly critical of Donald Trump,” she told the Times. “It proved my point.”
Some key ABA media lawyers are disappointed with the organization’s decision to censor the report. David Bodney, a former chairman of the ABA forum on communications said:
“It is more than a little ironic that a publication dedicated to the exploration of First Amendment issues is subjected to censorship when it seeks to publish an article about threats to free speech.”
The question for ABA attorneys is whether the risk of a baseless lawsuit is enough to justify censorship of a writer’s free speech. GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump and his attorneys may know how to use lawsuits and cease and desist letters to shut down small businesses, critics, and comedians. But should those tactics be enough to quiet the nation’s largest attorney association. Shouldn’t the ABA, at least, be big enough to stand up to the Donald’s intimidation techniques?
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