First Amendment Protects the New York Times from Donald Trump’s Lawsuit

Among the many legal battles involving Donald Trump these days is a recent lawsuit in which Trump sued his niece, Mary Trump, along with the New York Times for reporting on his tax records in 2018. The series of articles accused Trump of engaging in tax schemes and cast doubt on his claims of being a self-made millionaire. The reporting earned a Pulitzer Prize, but Trump alleges it was all part of a plot to uncover confidential records. The lawsuit was filed in 2021 and is seeking $100 million in damages, but the judge dismissed the legal action against the newspaper.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the right to free and open discussion, especially when it comes to public figures. The founding fathers wanted to encourage the public release of information around public figures with the idea that it would give the public access to more information about the people they were electing to represent them.

It’s a critical ingredient to our democratic system, which is why it’s more difficult for a public person to successfully sue for defamation, especially when they’re going up against a news organization. That’s why New York Supreme Court Justice Robert Reed dismissed Trump’s claims against the newspaper, saying they had no basis in constitutional law. He added that the reporting in question was nothing more than routine newsgathering, and as such, is protected by the First Amendment.

It’s common for a defendant who loses a lawsuit to pay the legal fees of the person or organization suing them if legal fees are included in the compensation the plaintiff is seeking and are available by statute such as the employment discrimination laws. It’s less common for a plaintiff to be required to pay the legal fees of the person they were trying to sue, but requiring them to do so is a way to discourage people from filing frivolous lawsuits for petty reasons. That is probably why Judge Reed ordered Trump to pay New York Times’s legal fees associated with defending themselves against his lawsuit.

A spokesperson from the New York Times said they were pleased with the judge’s decision to uphold long-standing precedent protecting journalists’ right to do their jobs. They described the newspaper’s 2018 reporting as routine and the information they gathered as being vital to the well-being of the public.

An attorney representing Trump was not as pleased with the judge’s decision, claiming the reporting done by the New York Times went beyond the type of newsgathering allowed by the First Amendment. She added that journalists must be held accountable when they infringe on someone’s civil rights.

The judge has not yet determined whether the lawsuit against Mary Trump can proceed.

At Lubin Austermuehle, we help clients navigate the complex laws and emotionally charged pathways to a court victory or settlement in slander and libel cases, as well as a vast range of other disputes from class action suits to breach of contract. We serve clients throughout Chicagoland from Waukegan, to Skokie and beyond. You can contact us online here or call us on our locally at 630-333-0333. Take advantage of our FREE consultation, where we can discuss your specific needs and wishes and our ability to meet them.

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