Justice Clarence Thomas has just called for a reconsideration of the landmark 1964 case of The New York Times v. Sullivan, but the timing of this call is interesting. It came right after Trump’s complaints that the current libel laws make it too difficult for public figures to win libel lawsuits – disregarding the fact that that’s the point.
According to Thomas, the decision was not Constitutional, nor was it in the spirit of the founding fathers who drafted and ratified the Constitution. Instead, Thomas claims they were policy-driven decisions that were disguised as constitutional law.
Despite the fact that the First Amendment is part of a federal document governing the entire country, Thomas claims the duty of protecting citizens’ rights should remain with the states, claiming the states were perfectly capable of handling cases of libel on their own until the case in question came into existence in 1964 – almost 175 years after the First Amendment was ratified. Thomas thinks the states are able on their own to walk that fine line between encouraging public discussion and providing a reasonable remedy for any potential harm that one’s reputation might suffer, but the facts of the case tell a different story.
The lawsuit was filed by L.B. Sullivan over an advertisement that ran in The Times to support the civil rights movement. Sullivan was a city commissioner for the city of Montgomery, AL. His name wasn’t even mentioned in the ad, but he filed his libel lawsuit anyway and won a whopping $500,000 in the lower courts. It was just one of many such lawsuits filed by Southern politicians as a way to prevent the civil rights movement from gaining national attention.
When the case reached the Supreme Court, all nine judges ruled in favor of The Times.
Whether the original decision was policy driven, or Thomas’s current decision to reexamine the case is the one that’s policy-driven is up for debate. The circumstances don’t appear to be in Thomas’s favor since this comes right after Trump’s claims on the campaign trail that his administration will loosen libel laws so he can sue The New York Times and The Washington Post – both newspapers that tend to be critical of Trump’s administration.
Under the current libel standards set by the case of The NY Times v. Sullivan, when anyone makes a defamatory statement about a public figure, in order to win a libel suit against them, the public figure needs to be able to prove that the statements are false, that it hurt their professional reputation, and that the person who made the statements knew they were false at the time they were made. The wording around that last requirement is a bit vague, but it boils down to the idea that the person who made the defamatory statement must have known (or believed with certainty) that the statements were true in order to win their libel case against a public figure.
Trump’s reasons for wanting to do away with those standards are clear, although Justice Thomas’s reasoning for backing him up on this particular issue are less clear, especially since some of his conservative brethren might not back him up. Despite the fact that Trump himself has put two very conservative-leaning judges on the Supreme Court, both of them expressed support for the original ruling in The NY Times v. Sullivan.
Our Oak Brook, IL libel and slander lawyers concentrate in this area of the law. We have defended or prosecuted a number of defamation and libel cases including cases representing a high profile athlete against a well known radio shock jock, a consumer sued by a large car dealer in federal court for negative internet reviews and videos, one of Loyola University’s largest contributors when the head basketball coach sued him for libel after he was fired, a lawyer who was falsely accused of committing fraud with the false allegation published to the Dean of the University of Illinois School of Law where the lawyer attended law school and the President of the University of Illinois.
Our Chicago defamation attorneys defend individuals’ First Amendment and free speech rights to post on Facebook, Yelp and other websites information that criticizes businesses and addresses matters of public concern. You can view here a federal court decision where we prevailed in a libel per se claim asserting the innocent infringer defense. Here is an arbitration decision where we won a decision in favor our client after we presented evidence and cross-examined the used car dealer defendant at a hearing where we proved that our client’s 20 plus Youtube videos voicing his opinion that a used car dealer committed consumer fraud were true, were protected opinions under the First Amendment, or involved inconsequential and minor errors of fact. We recently required a defendant who publicized an allegedly false lawsuit regarding our client to provide an apology and full retraction as part of a confidential financial settlement following our filing of a $16 million suit for libel per se in federal district court. You can read about that case here.
Our Chicago Cybersquatting attorneys also represent and prosecute claims on behalf of businesses throughout the Chicago area including in Lincolnwood and Wheaton who have been unfairly and falsely criticized by consumers and competitors in defamatory publications in the online and offline media. We have successfully represented businesses who have been the victim of competitors setting up false rating sites and pretend consumer rating sites that are simply forums to falsely bash or business clients. We have also represented and defended consumers First Amendment and free speech rights to criticize businesses who are guilty of consumer fraud and false advertising.
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Lubin Austermuehle’s DuPage County defamation and slander lawyers near Evanston and Schaumburg have more than three decades of experience helping business clients unravel the complexities of Illinois and out-of-state business laws. Our Chicago business, commercial, class-action, and consumer litigation lawyers represent individuals, family businesses and enterprises of all sizes in a variety of legal disputes, including disputes among partners and shareholders as well as lawsuits between businesses and consumer rights, auto fraud, and wage claim individual and class action cases. In every case, our goal is to resolve disputes as quickly and successfully as possible, helping business clients protect their investments and get back to business as usual. From offices in Elmhurst and Wilmette, near Park Ridge and Highland Park, we serve clients throughout Illinois and the Midwest.