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Clinic Wins Dismissal of Libel Suit Against Rutgers University Professor

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A federal judge yesterday dismissed in full a defamation and conspiracy lawsuit the Hindu American Foundation (“HAF”) brought last year against Rutgers University Associate Professor and human rights activist Audrey Truschke and four other activists.  The Cornell Law School First Amendment Clinic and co-counsel Davis Wright Tremaine LLP represented Dr. Truschke in this matter.

HAF’s claims against Dr. Truschke centered around several April 2021 Twitter posts in which she criticized HAF and Hindu nationalist ideology.  Among these tweets, Dr. Truschke reposted two articles from Al Jazeera Media Network’s concerning the awarding of federal COVID relief funds to organizations including HAF, which the articles characterized as “Hindu right-wing groups.”  HAF subsequently brought claims for defamation and civil conspiracy against Dr. Truschke and four other individuals quoted in the Al Jazeera articles.

In late 2021, Professor Truschke filed a motion to dismiss HAF’s suit, arguing that HAF fails to state a claim against Professor Truschke, and that Professor Truschke is not subject to personal jurisdiction in the District of Columbia.  The other defendants also filed motions to dismiss.

In a 28-page opinion issued Tuesday, Judge Amit Mehta agreed, granting all of the defendants’ motions and dismissing the case.  The court dismissed HAF’s suit against Professor Truschke on two independent grounds.  The court found that HAF could not show Professor Truschke is subject to personal jurisdiction in the District of Columbia, requiring dismissal.  The court also found that HAF failed to plead a libel or conspiracy claim against Truschke or any of her co-defendants – independently requiring dismissal of HAF’s suit.

“At its core, fighting this lawsuit was about protecting academic freedom, political debate, and critical inquiry,” said Christina Neitzey, Stanton Fellow in the Cornell First Amendment Clinic.  “We are thrilled with this victory and hopeful that it dissuades HAF and others from seeking to use the courts to silence scholars and activists with whom they disagree in the future.”

Eric Feder, Counsel at Davis Wright Tremaine, stated, “We’re pleased that the court recognized that a lawsuit against a New Jersey college professor had no business being filed in a Washington, D.C. court, but, more importantly, that the case had no merit in the first place.  The court’s opinion reinforces the important principle that academic and political debates are a vital cornerstone of our democracy and should not form the basis of a defamation suit.”

“The Cornell First Amendment Clinic and Davis Wright Tremaine have provided amazing legal representation throughout this lengthy process, and I am deeply grateful to everyone who worked tirelessly on this case,” stated Professor Truschke.  “While this process was inevitably stressful, a silver lining has been working with some rather promising law students at Cornell.  I’m grateful that I was able to secure pro bono counsel in this litigation as well as continue my research and publishing agendas throughout.  But I worry about others in my situation who could spend their life savings defending against similar meritless lawsuits and would be compelled to bow to anti-intellectual pressure to halt their research.  I hope that one outcome of this dismissal is dissuading further bad-faith litigation that seeks to infringe on academic freedom and civil society.”

Professor Truschke was represented by Feder and Neitzey, along with First Amendment Clinic Director Mark H. Jackson, former Clinic Adjunct Professor Jared Carter, and former teaching fellow Tyler Valeska.  Former Clinic students Kathryn Rider and Tim Birchfield, as well as former Clinic intern Taylor Kay, assisted in drafting the briefs in support of Professor Truschke’s motion to dismiss.

About the Cornell Law First Amendment Clinic: The Cornell Law First Amendment Clinic represents journalists and citizens on a pro bono basis to advance the interests of free expression. Law students collaborate with faculty to represent clients in legal research, negotiations, and litigation.

The case is Hindu American Foundation v. Sunita Viswanath, et al., Civil No. 21-cv-01268 (APM), in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

Read the court’s full opinion here.


Christina Neitzey,, (910) 620-5282

Eric Feder,, (202) 973-4273

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Cornell First Amendment Clinic Secures Reinstatement of McCorkle and Maclean to Geneva Police Budget Advisory Board

GENEVA, N.Y. – The Geneva City Council reinstated James McCorkle and Robert Maclean to the City’s Police Budget Advisory Board Wednesday evening, December 7, 2022. Cornell Law School’s First Amendment Clinic negotiated the reinstatement on behalf of McCorkle and Maclean after the two Board members were removed over the summer.

The City Council approved a resolution reinstating McCorkle and Maclean at its Wednesday meeting on the recommendation of Geneva’s City Attorney, Emil Bove. The resolution acknowledged that the removal of the two Board members came after statements they had made as private individuals regarding the City’s police department and expressing their personal political views.

The First Amendment Clinic became involved after the City Council removed McCorkle and Maclean on a 5 to 4 vote in July. The removal came after McCorkle sent an open letter to the City Council, which was published in The Finger Lakes Times and shared on social media, criticizing the Geneva Police Department and the City Council.  The Clinic alleged the removal violated McCorkle’s and Maclean’s rights to Free Speech and Due Process under the United States and New York State Constitutions.

The resolution temporarily expands the membership of the Police Budget Advisory Board to seven, to account for the two Board members appointed to replace McCorkle and Maclean earlier this year. McCorkle and Maclean will sit on the Board until December 31, 2023.

“This was a necessary and important outcome,” said Christina Neitzey, Stanton Fellow in the First Amendment Clinic. “Public servants—whether they are paid or volunteer—must be free to speak as citizens on issues of public importance without fear of retaliation for criticizing their government or for their political views.”

“Our reinstatement wouldn’t have happened without the pro bono support of the First Amendment Law Clinic, James McCorkle’s courage in speaking out, and the persistence of a few City Councilors.  But for them, the City of Geneva would have gotten away with trampling on the right to free expression by retaliating against speech that is critical of the police.” said Robert Maclean.  “I’m thinking today about all of the people who don’t have the same resources with which to fight retaliation.  Dismissing us was meant to deter others from speaking out; I hope our case instead serves as a firm reminder to the Geneva City Council, the GPD, and law enforcement agencies across the country that critical scrutiny of the police is both protected by law and necessary for a functioning democracy.”

“Retaliation for speaking truth to power can never be tolerated or normalized; to critique, indeed, to call out egregious behavior by police is essential if there are to be civil and human rights, and certainly if we are ever to move beyond the carceral economy that has entrapped us.” said James McCorkle.

The First Amendment Clinic team was led by Clinic students Patrick George, James Pezzullo, and Yifei Yang, supervised by the Clinic’s Stanton Fellow Christina Neitzey and Associate Director and Associate Professor Gautam Hans.

Contact: Christina Neitzey,, (910) 620-5282