Ministry wants Supreme Court to reassess Times v. Sullivan

A Christian ministry is asking the U.S Supreme Court to hear its case against the South Poverty Law Center for designating the ministry as a “hate group.” The ministry claims that Times v. Sullivan enables “reputational terrorism” while escaping the responsibilities under defamation law. (Fox News, December 1, 2021, by Tyler O’Neil)

Justice Neil Gorsuch recently expressed his opinion in a dissent that Times v. Sullivan’s actual malice standard was less appropriate today given the change in the news scene from a few outlets with editors and fact checkers to myriads of outlets that publish anything that “garners clicks.” Justice Clarence Thomas had earlier lamented the prolific flow of disinformation and conspiracy theories in advocating a reassessment of Times v. Sullivan. (The New York Times, July 2, 2021, by Adam Liptak)

On its 50-year anniversary, two legal scholars argue that Times v. Sullivan has had great impact first in protecting newspapers and the civil right movement from debilitating damage awards and then in protecting “freedom of expression in a variety of areas not contemplated by the Supreme Court in 1964.” The scholars write, “The events of the past fifty years reveal that the actual malice standard has proven workable in the multifaceted areas in which it has been adopted. Most importantly, the standard has provided, and continues to provide, what the Supreme Court described as ‘breathing space’ for a wide variety of communications made in the public interest.” (DePaul Law Review, Fall 2014, by John Bruce Lewis and Bruce L. Ottley)

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