Apr 26, 2023 - News

Immigration critic's lawsuit against SPLC moves ahead

Illustration of a hand with a gavel striking down on a pointed finger.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

A federal judge says one of Georgia's most vocal advocates for strict immigration policies can move forward with its defamation lawsuit against the Southern Poverty Law Center over being labeled an "anti-immigrant hate group."

Why it matters: The decision allows the Dustin Inman Society to demand emails, notes and other documents that could show how the group decides the designation.

  • Doing so could be key to proving "actual malice," which is the high bar that public figures must clear to win a defamation case.

What's happening: Judge William Keith Watkins of Alabama’s Middle District Federal Court earlier this month denied the SPLC's motion to dismiss the DIS' complaint.

Details: D.A. King, the DIS founder and president who also earned criticism from the Anti-Defamation League, claimed that the SPLC's "hate group" label put the society at risk of violence and damaged its reputation.

  • In a 55-page memorandum released this week, Watkins disagreed with SPLC’s argument that the label was opinion, and thus protected speech.
  • The judge said the timing of the "hate group" designation — coming years after initially saying the label did not apply — was enough to warrant additional "probing via discovery."

Zoom in: Named after a teen who was killed in a car collision allegedly caused by an undocumented immigrant, DIS lobbies at the Legislature and opines in the media.

  • Its mission statement states that "unsecured borders and the resulting illegal immigration represents a clear and present danger to our national security and public safety."
  • The SPLC report on DIS alleges the organization "denigrates immigrants and supports efforts to make the lives of immigrants so hard that they leave on their own — a tactic known as 'attrition through enforcement.'"

Zoom out: The SPLC started its civil rights advocacy in 1971 with lawsuits against white supremacist groups in the South. Over the following decades it grew into a national legal and research machine with hundreds of employees.

  • Right-wing critics have argued the SPLC unfairly targets conservatives Christians and conservatives. In August 2020, the Republican National Committee condemned the group as a "far-left organization with an obvious bias."

The other side: The SPLC declined Axios' request for comment.


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