SCOTUS Declines To Review Landmark Sullivan Libel Decision

The U.S. Supreme Court has again declined to revisit the libel protections afforded to publishers by its New York Times-Sullivan decision in 1964. 

But Justice Clarence Thomas reiterated his view that SCOTUS should reconsider that ruling, arguing that “The Court usurped control over libel law and imposed its own elevated standard in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan.”

The Court declined without comment to reconsider Sullivan, not granting cert in the case of Don Blankenship vs. NBC Universal, LLC et al.

Thomas concurred with that. But he stated in a comment that in Sullivan, the Court decreed that “the Constitution required ‘a federal rule that prohibits a public official from recovering damages for a defamatory falsehood relating to his official conduct unless he proves that the statement was made with ‘actual malice’ — that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.”



Thomas believes the issue should reside with state courts and legislatures, and concurred today because “Blankenship’s claims are independently subject to an actual-malice standard as a matter of state law.” 

Last year, the Court rejected a church’s request to reconsider Sullivan, Thomas being the only dissenter. It has declined to revisit the decision on several occasions since 1964. 

Blankenship is a former coal mine operator who sued several media outlets for describing him as a convicted felon, although he served only a misdemeanor sentence for an explosion at a mine, reports state.


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