Thursday, December 3, 2015

New York Times co. v. Sullivan case brief

New York Times Co. v. Sullivan case brief
1964 – First amendment case 

Facts: Sullivan is one of three elected commissioners of the city of Montgomery, he is tasked with supervising the police. He brought an action against four defendants who are black and clergymen and against New York Times. A jury awarded plaintiff, Sullivan, $500,000 against all defendants which were affirmed by Alabama Supreme.
Statements – they said that the police force was padlocking doors and was bombing the home of Mr. King and using violence against non-violent protestors. The NY Times published this article of all of the violence being perpetrated against people. The plaintiff who was one of the commissioners who supervised the police thought that those statements applied to him and he tried to sue for libel. 
Some of the facts mentioned were not true and that is not a controversy. 
The trial judge submitted the case to the jury saying it is libelous per se and were not privileged so that if the statements concerned the commissioner, there was liability. 
In Alabama, under libel per se, there was no defense unless the defendant convinces the jury that the statements are true. 
Decision: Reversed 
Reasoning: It looks like the first amendment applies in this case, the only question is if falsity of statements is enough to remove the protection that the first amendment casts. Generally, it has been held that the falsity of statements is not enough to remove the cloak of protection. Allowing a prosecution for publishing false statements of government’s official conduct would create censorship because asking these companies to first find out the truth on pain of judgment would lead to news companies never publishing their material because they will never know if its false or not. 
Constitutionally, the only way to remove the cloak is by plaintiff proving that defendant made these malicious statements with disregard to their falsity or knowledge of their falsity. This is because their public official is such an important person that if there is any chance that the statements are true, the inconvenience of defending against false statements is a small price to pay. 
In a civil action, you act if it was reasonable for a person to make/believe its own statements and if there was a chance of reasonable doubt, retraction is not necessary. There must also be evidence that it concerns the person, and there was no such evidence here. 

Holding: Constitutionally, the only way to remove the cloak of protection of a defendant for comments made about a public official is by plaintiff showing that the defendant made statements with actual malice which is with disregard to their falsity or knowledge of their falsity 

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