new york times v. thomas
February 19, 2019

New York Times v. Sullivan has set the standard for libel for the last 70 years. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas thinks it's time for that to change.

In 1964, the Supreme Court ruled public officials would have to prove a publication made a defamatory statement with "actual malice" when suing for libel. But in a concurring opinion regarding sexual assault accusations against Bill Cosby on Tuesday, Thomas suggested Times v. Sullivan and subsequent press-protecting rulings were "policy-driven decisions masquerading as constitutional law."

The Tuesday case regarded Cosby accuser Katherine McKee, who said "Cosby's lawyer leaked a letter that distorted her background and damaged her reputation," NBC News notes. The court decided against hearing McKee's case, and Thomas alone wrote a concurring opinion questioning Times v. Sullivan. "If the Constitution does not require public figures to satisfy an actual-malice standard in state-law defamation suits, then neither should we," Thomas said, mentioning the infamous term coined in 1964.

Thomas' language reflects past statements from President Trump, who has constantly said he wants to "open up" and "change" libel laws and make it easier to sue the press. Read Thomas' whole opinion at CNN. Kathryn Krawczyk

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