The Supreme Court of the United States hijacked a case challenging defamation protections for journalists and the media set out in a landmark 1964 ruling on Friday. However, the dissenting opinions of conservative justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch have called into question the rationale for the continued use of these legal protections.
The opinions of conservative judges signaled recognition of the radically different media environment in which modern news is consumed and spread while recognizing the continued importance of the First Amendment.
The court refused to take up the request appeal by ShkelzÃ«n Berisha, the son of former Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha, who accused author Guy Lawson of defamation over allegations of corruption in his 2015 book “Arms and the Dudes”. The book was adapted into the 2016 War Dogs movie.
A judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit found that Lawson was protected by the principles adopted in New York Times Co v. Sullivan (1964), protecting media entities from damage related to a possible defamation of a public figure, unless the public figure can prove “genuine malice” – whether the statement was made with knowledge of its falsity or without respecting account whether it was true or false. “
The appeal judge concluded this “[a]t worse, the book misidentified where they claimed to have received [the defaming] information, ânot that Lawson claimed that Berisha actually did what the story implied. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favor of the lower court and refused to hear the case.
However, in their dissent, Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch raised questions about continued support for Sullivan.
Judge Thomas said the court of Sullivan “Provides little explanation for the decision to erect a new bar for complainants of public figures” and that the effect of “lies by a public figure imposes real harm”. Thomas cited as examples the “Pizza-gate” shooting and the need for increased home security after online accusations against or by public figures.
Judge Gorusch unearthed from the First Amendment the need for those exercising freedom of the press to “find out about the facts,” presuming that publishers should not be exempt from the potential damage their publications might have on members of the public. .
Gorusch has explicitly recognized the technological advancements since Sullivan, stating that “today virtually anyone. . . can publish virtually anything for immediate consumption virtually anywhere in the world “and that” online media platforms. . . âMonetize anything that generates clicksâ.