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March 09, 2014

Scott Greenfield: New York Times v. Sullivan, 50 years on, and more.

Back in olden times, I wrote my first law review article on a U.S. Supreme Court decision, Time, Inc. v. Firestone, that added another wrinkle to "public figure" under the line of cases following New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964). In New York Times v. Sullivan, now 50 years old, the Court established the actual malice standard for media coverage of public officials in defamation cases. It was, and is, a ringing victory for the First Amendment and the press. First Amendment rights, however, do collide from time to time with other constitutional principles. Rights of the accused in criminal cases is one of them. For an especially good take on this, see our friend Scott Greenfield's post at Simple Justice today, "Confronting A Free Press, 50 Years After NY Times v. Sullivan". An excerpt:

But what of our right to know, to have the press use confidential sources whose identities must be protected or they will clam up, and we will be left in the dark? Sure, this time it was something as trivial to society as a shooter’s diary, but the next time could be Deep Throat and bring down a president.

That’s the nature of constitutional conflict. It’s not easy, and a painful choice must be made. We want both rights to prevail, but the conflict makes it impossible. One will fall in the face of another, and it can’t be prevented.

Posted by JD Hull at March 9, 2014 01:51 PM

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