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. Continue reading