Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas signaled his willingness on Monday to undo a 1964 ruling that makes it difficult to sue media outlets for libel.
The conservative justice, who was one of five votes to overturn the landmark abortion ruling Roe v. Wade on Friday, issued a dissenting opinion after the high court refused to hear a case brought by a Christian group that sued the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Coral Ridge Ministries Media filed suit against the SPLC, a left-leaning watchdog, after it labeled the Christian organization a hate group.
The lawsuit sought to upend the precedent established by New York Times v. Sullivan, the 1964 court case which set a high bar for public officials to sue for defamation.
“I would grant certiorari in this case to revisit the ‘actual malice’ standard,” Thomas wrote in his dissent.
“This case is one of many showing how New York Times and its progeny have allowed media organizations and interest groups ‘to cast false aspersions on public figures with near impunity.’”
Thomas wrote: “SPLC’s ‘hate group’ designation lumped Coral Ridge’s Christian ministry with groups like the Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Nazis.”
“It placed Coral Ridge on an interactive, online ‘Hate Map’ and caused Coral Ridge concrete financial injury by excluding it from the AmazonSmile donation program.”
The justice continued: “Nonetheless, unable to satisfy the ‘almost impossible’ actual-malice standard this Court has imposed, Coral Ridge could not hold SPLC to account for what it maintains is a blatant falsehood.”
Another conservative justice, Neil Gorsuch, concurred with Thomas’ view that New York Times v. Sullivan should be revisited.
The Supreme Court decided Sullivan in 1964, after a federal district court in Alabama found that a civil rights organization’s ad in the New York Times had damaged the reputation of an Alabama sheriff who was identified by implication in the ad.
Sullivan established a higher standard for public officials and public figures to prove defamation of character.
They would have to prove actual malice on the part of the accused defamer, that the publication had acted with “reckless disregard for the truth.”
Last year, Thomas also called on his colleagues on the bench to review the “actual malice” standard after the court refused to take up a similar case.
The son of the former prime minister of Albania sued the author and publisher of a book that served as the basis for the film “War Dogs,” which tells a story about international arms dealers.
Shkelzen Berisha, the plaintiff, accused author Guy Lawson, who wrote “Arms and the Dudes: How Three Stoners from Miami Beach Became the Most Unlikely Gunrunners in History,” alleging that he was wrongly linked to the illicit arms trade.
“The lack of historical support for this Court’s actual-malice requirement is reason enough to take a second look at the Court’s doctrine,” Thomas wrote in his 2021 opinion.
“Our reconsideration is all the more needed because of the doctrine’s real-world effects. Public figure or private, lies impose real harm.”
With Post wires