Speed Reads

First Amendment

Sarah Palin defamation suit against The New York Times heads to trial

Former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin is getting her day in court Monday, when jury selection begins in her defamation lawsuit against The New York Times. Palin filed suit against the Times in 2017, accusing the newspaper and later former editorial page editor James Bennet of defaming her in an editorial that linked a 2011 mass shooting in Arizona to an ad by her PAC that took aim at one of the victims, then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D).

Palin lawsuit claims that Bennet, who has acknowledged adding language to a draft prepared by Times editorialists, knew that no link had been established between her PAC's ads and the Giffords shooting. The Times amended the editorial within 24 hours, disclaiming any connection between the Arizona shooting and political rhetoric and correcting its erroneous assertion that the crosshairs on Palin's political map were over the candidates she was targeting themselves. 

Palin, 57, has a high bar to clear to prove "actual malice" by Bennet or the Times, the standard for libeling public officials the Supreme Court set 58 years ago in New York Times v. Sullivan. And she cannot count on a friendly jury in federal court in Manhattan. Palin has said in court filings she will appeal a loss and hopes to overturn the "actual malice" standard, and at least two Supreme Court justices, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, have indicated they would like to revisit that standard.

"This is a lawsuit over an editorial, essentially an opinion. This is a potentially dangerous area," Roy Gutterman, a Syracuse University law and communications professor, tells Reuters. "If we give public officials a green light to litigate on editorials they disagree with, where's the end?"