Jun 27, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Clarence Thomas signals interest in revisiting media libel standard

justice Clarence Thomas

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Justice Clarence Thomas on Monday indicated that he believes the Supreme Court should reconsider a ruling that makes it more difficult to sue media organizations, saying he disagreed with the court's decision to turn away an appeal in a defamation case.

Why it matters: The case in question, Coral Ridge v. SPLC, was designed to overturn the landmark New York Times v. Sullivan case, which established the precedent that a public figure must prove a defendant acted with "actual malice," or intentionality, in defaming a person.

  • In recent months, district courts have reinforced this precedent, most notably during Sarah Palin's defamation suit against the New York Times. The district judge and the jury determined that the plaintiff, Palin, failed to prove actual malice.
  • With its decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last week, the Supreme Court has proved that it is willing to overturn long-standing precedents.

What they're saying: "I would grant certiorari in this case to revisit the 'actual malice' standard," Thomas wrote in his dissent.

  • "This case is one of many showing how [NYT v. Sullivan] and its progeny have allowed media organizations and interest groups 'to cast false aspersions on public figures with near impunity,'" he added.

The big picture: It's the latest in a string of first amendment arguments and cases sweeping the country as it wrestled with free speech issues.

  • The Palin trial, coupled with the recent Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial, exposed millions of Americans to the tricky legal guardrails surrounding the first interpretation of the First Amendment historically throughout years of various court cases.
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