New York Times Co. v. Sullivan

landmark United States Supreme Court 1964 ruling

New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964),[1] was a United States Supreme Court case which established the actual malice standard which has to be met before press reports about public officials or public figures can be considered to be defamation and libel; and hence allowed free reporting of the civil rights campaigns in the southern United States. It is one of the key decisions supporting the freedom of the press.

Quotes edit

Court ruling edit

Majority edit

Brennan, joined by Warren, Clark, Harlan, Stewart, White.
  • We are required in this case to determine for the first time the extent to which the constitutional protections for speech and press limit a State's power to award damages in a libel action brought by a public official against critics of his official conduct.
  • There is no legal alchemy by which a State may thus create the cause of action that would otherwise be denied for a publication which, as respondent himself said of the advertisement, "reflects not only on me but on the other Commissioners and the community." Raising as it does the possibility that a good faith critic of government will be penalized for his criticism, the proposition relied on by the Alabama courts strikes at the very center of the constitutionally protected area of free expression.

Concurrence, Black edit

Black, joined by Douglas.
  • I base my vote to reverse on the belief that the First and Fourteenth Amendments not merely "delimit" a State's power to award damages to "public officials against critics of their official conduct," but completely prohibit a State from exercising such a power.
  • In my opinion, the Federal Constitution has dealt with this deadly danger to the press in the only way possible without leaving the free press open to destruction -- by granting the press an absolute immunity for criticism of the way public officials do their public duty.
  • We would, I think, more faithfully interpret the First Amendment by holding that, at the very least, it leaves the people and the press free to criticize officials and discuss public affairs with impunity. This Nation of ours elects many of its important officials; so do the States, the municipalities, the counties, and even many precincts. These officials are responsible to the people for the way they perform their duties.
  • An unconditional right to say what one pleases about public affairs is what I consider to be the minimum guarantee of the First Amendment. I regret that the Court has stopped short of this holding indispensable to preserve our free press from destruction.

Concurrence, Goldberg edit

Goldberg, joined by Douglas.
  • The impressive array of history and precedent marshaled by the Court, however, confirms my belief that the Constitution affords greater protection than that provided by the Court's standard to citizen and press in exercising the right of public criticism.
  • In my view, the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution afford to the citizen and to the press an absolute, unconditional privilege to criticize official conduct despite the harm which may flow from excesses and abuses.
  • In a democratic society, one who assumes to act for the citizens in an executive, legislative, or judicial capacity must expect that his official acts will be commented upon and criticized. Such criticism cannot, in my opinion, be muzzled or deterred by the courts at the instance of public officials under the label of libel.
  • We should be particularly careful, therefore, adequately to protect the liberties which are embodied in the First and Fourteenth Amendments. It may be urged that deliberately and maliciously false statements have no conceivable value as free speech. That argument, however, is not responsive to the real issue presented by this case, which is whether that freedom of speech which all agree is constitutionally protected can be effectively safeguarded by a rule allowing the imposition of liability upon a jury's evaluation of the speaker's state of mind.
  • If individual citizens may be held liable in damages for strong words, which a jury finds false and maliciously motivated, there can be little doubt that public debate and advocacy will be constrained. And if newspapers, publishing advertisements dealing with public issues, thereby risk liability, there can also be little doubt that the ability of minority groups to secure publication of their views on public affairs and to seek support for their causes will be greatly diminished.
  • For these reasons, I strongly believe that the Constitution accords citizens and press an unconditional freedom to criticize official conduct. It necessarily follows that, in a case such as this, where all agree that the allegedly defamatory statements related to official conduct, the judgments for libel cannot constitutionally be sustained.

About edit

  • American law as prescribed in the leading case of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for a public official to prevail and obtain damages for libel or slander.
    • Alexander, Kern; Klint Alexander (2010). Higher Education Law: Policy and Perspectives. Routledge. p. 358. ISBN 0415800307. 
  • In New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964), the Supreme Court reviewed an Alabama jury's award of damages to state officials who had been criticized in an editorial advertisement published in the New York Times. Realizing that politically motivated defamation actions could chill speech essential to informed self-government, the Court carved out a category of defamation for First Amendment protection.It thus adopted an "actual malice" standard that requires public officials to prove that an allegedly defamatory statement about them was made with knowledge of the falsehood or reckless disregard for the truth.
    • Lively, Donald E.; Russell L. Weaver (2006). Contemporary Supreme Court Cases: Landmark Decisions Since Roe v. Wade. Greenwood. p. 76. ISBN 9780313335143. 
  • Could a city government official in Montgomery, Alabama, for example, use the libel laws of the state to successfuly sue and punish the publisher and managers of a newspaper for printing words he perceived as defamatory? Or could the publisher of a newspaper, such as the New York Times, claim its right under the First Amendment to decide what to print and distribute to the public, despite a state government's libel laws? These constitutional issues were raised and settled by the U.S. Supreme Court in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964).
    • Hall, Kermit; John J. Patrick (2006). The Pursuit of Justice: Supreme Court Decisions that Shaped America. Oxford University Press, USA. p. 141. ISBN 0195325680. 
  • New York Times Co. v. Sullivan afforded the Supreme Court the opportunity to craft the most vigorous affirmation of the freedom of the press in the history of American constitutional law.
    • Schultz, David (2005). Encyclopedia of the Supreme Court. Facts on File. p. 313. ISBN 9780816050864. 
  • New York Times Co. v. Sullivan was a victory both for the Civil Rights movement and for press freedom. It forever put to rest the notion that the first Amendment was merely a prohibition on prior restraints. It also reflected the theory that political speech lies at the core of the First Amendment's protection.
    • Lidsky, Lyrissa Barnett; R. George Wright (2004). Freedom of the Press: A Reference Guide to the United States Constitution. Praeger. p. 68. ISBN 0313315973. 

See also edit

References edit

  1. New York Times v. Sullivan, United States Supreme Court, March 9, 1964 (376 U.S. 254).

External links edit

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