The 1964 decision in New York Times v. Sullivan protected the civil rights movement, established the "actual malice" standard, and is the basis for modern American libel law. But in recent years, criticism of the case has grown among conservatives—with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas calling it "policy-driven decisions masquerading as constitutional law" and suggesting that the decision should be reconsidered.
In her new book, Actual Malice: Freedom of the Press and Civil Rights in New York Times v. Sullivan, law professor Samantha Barbas uses archival documents to shine light on the history behind the case and introduces readers to the pivotal figures involved.
She outlines the path that libel law jurisprudence had taken prior to 1964 and explains why the New York Times v. Sullivan case was such a departure.
In this episode of the Modern Law Library podcast, Barbas tells the ABA Journal’s Lee Rawles about the curious journalistic spat that led to the litigation, as well as the legal tactics used by the pro-segregationists who brought the suit. Barbas also gives listeners a glimpse at the complex and sometimes-counterintuitive characters involved in New York Times v. Sullivan, explains the stakes that the case holds for the 21st century, and shares the story of perhaps the only lawyer who’s ever had to argue before the Supreme Court without wearing socks.