When a miscreant manipulates the legal system to intimidate and silence people who are telling the truth, such manipulation threatens core values of democracy—the right to freely speak, petition the government, and associate.
Legal intimidation of truthful speech is not a hypothetical problem. Take the scandal surrounding Lance Armstrong. Armstrong rose to bicycling fame as a seven-time winner of the Tour de France. Throughout his career, however, rumors of performance-enhancing drug use plagued him. His denials were vehement. Over the course of his career, in an attempt to silence those who spoke out against him, he filed lawsuit after lawsuit.
- In 2003, Emma O’Reilly, Armstrong’s former soigneur, publicly described Armstrong’s performance-enhancing drug use when she agreed to cooperate with authors of the book L.A. Confidential: Les secrets de Lance Armstrong. Armstrong sued her. The case settled.
- In 2004, Armstrong sued The Sunday Times of London for libel after the paper reprinted allegations contained in the book L.A. Confidential: Les secrets de Lance Armstrong. The Sunday Times spent more than $1 million in legal fees defending against the lawsuit and paid Armstrong $500,000 to settle the suit.
- In 2004, Armstrong sued SCA Promotions for failure to pay a bonus for winning the Tour de France. SCA had declined to pay it because of reports of Armstrong’s performance-enhancing drug use. SCA Promotions paid Armstrong $7.5 million to settle the suit.
- In 2005, Armstrong sued his former personal assistant, Mike Anderson, after Anderson disclosed his discovery of a box of androstenone while cleaning Armstrong’s apartment. The case settled.
- In 2006, lawyers for The Sunday Times issued the following statement: “The Sunday Times has confirmed to Mr. Armstrong that it never intended to accuse him of being guilty of taking any performance-enhancing drugs and sincerely apologizes for any such impression.”
After six years and millions of dollars in legal fees and settlements, the truth finally vindicated these voices that Armstrong had subdued through lawsuits. In 2012, The United States Doping Agency issued its “Reasoned Decision,” citing to mountains of proof of Armstrong’s performance-enhancing drug use. In an about face, Armstrong did a “tell-all” interview with Oprah Winfrey, admitting to doping to improve his race results. He also conceded that he was nothing more than a bully who had sued the journalists, friends, and colleagues who had accused him of doping:
Armstrong: “Yeah, I was a bully.”
Winfrey: “‘You’re suing people and you know they’re telling the truth? What is that?’ . . . ”
Armstrong: “It’s a major flaw.”
Armstrong had lied about his years of rampant performance-enhancing drug use. His vehement denials survived in part because, each time a truth-teller challenged him, Armstrong slapped that person with a lawsuit in retaliation...