Briefcase

Briefcase: New York Times v. Sullivan

Host: Dean Leonard Baynes

In a new ongoing segment on Briefcase, Dean Leonard Baynes with the University of Houston Law Center looks at famous Supreme Court cases thru history.

“The American Press is important to our democracy. They are largely protected from libel suits due to the landmark case, New York Times v. Sullivan.”

“In 1960, activists took out an ad in the New York Times, charging police in Montgomery, Alabama with unleashing a ‘wave of terror’ on peaceful civil rights demonstrators.  While most of the ad was correct, there were some inaccuracies. Even though he was not specifically mentioned, Montgomery Police Commissioner, L. B. Sullivan, sued the newspaper, claiming damage to his reputation.”

“In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Times, saying it was protected under the First Amendment because free and open debate outweighs occasional, honest factual errors. This limits public officials from using libel claims to suppress political criticism.  They must prove that statements were made with malice, ‘knowledge that it was false, or with reckless disregard for the truth.’ ”

Share