Heidi K. Waugh


Conceptual understandings of political engagement in the digital age continue to evolve as social media and the real-time web reconfigure the ways in which we exchange information. Despite the increasing application of e-campaigns, online petitions, and large-scale digital protests, reciprocity between the governed and the government continues to endure as the hallmark of representative democracy. The right to petition, contained within the final clause of the First Amendment, embodies this central tenet and constitutes the core of the Massachusetts Anti-SLAPP Statute—legislation that provides a special motion to dismiss lawsuits designed to chill public participation in government.

Massachusetts anti-SLAPP jurisprudence is at a critical juncture. As each special motion to dismiss comes to pass, the courts must grapple with the statute’s expansive scope and the shifting contours of political engagement in the twenty-first century. Increasingly, citizens are engaging in activities that were not originally contemplated by the statute and seeking protection under the anti-SLAPP paradigm. As ever more complex scenarios arise, how are courts to determine which activities meet the statutory definition of petitioning? This Note argues that courts must objectively assess a statement’s content, manner of issuance, and proximity to government action when determining the scope of petitioning activity. In the absence of an interpretive framework that is both consistent with the language and the policies underlying the statute—namely promoting and protecting an involved citizenry—the judiciary is bound to frustrate, rather than effectuate, the statute’s legislative intent.