On October 10th, the Supreme Court declined to revisit the landmark First Amendment decision in New York Times v. Sullivan, which provides vital First Amendment protections to journalists and the public. The case, Don Blankenship v. NBC Universal et al., requesting the precedent be revisited, concerns a former coal baron who was convicted of a federal conspiracy offense and who sued a number of news outlets for their erroneous reporting that he was a convicted felon, even though his offense was classified as a misdemeanor. Lower courts ruled against him, finding that the outlets did not make the statements with actual malice, but the attorneys for the plaintiff urged the Supreme Court to reconsider the decision and overturn NYT v. Sullivan. The Supreme Court declined to take up the case, however Justice Thomas wrote in a concurrence “[i]n an appropriate case, however, we should reconsider New York Times and our other decisions displacing state defamation law”.
Charlotte McBirney is Senior Counsel and Director, Public Policy for the News/Media Alliance.