Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas indicated on Monday that the court should perhaps reconsider libel rulings that increase the difficulty in an individual suing a media company for defamation. He disagreed with the Court’s ruling not to take up the case Coral Ridge v. SPLC, which would have brought New York Times v. Sullivan into question.
In his dissent, he said “I would grant certiorari in this case to revisit the ‘actual malice’ standard. 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.'”
“SPLC’s ‘hate group’ designation lumped Coral Ridge’s Christian ministry with groups like the Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Nazis,” he wrote. “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. 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.”
Coral Ridge was labeled a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and that designation was used by SPLC on its website, as well as in fundraising, publications, and training programs. Coral Ridge speaks out against homosexual acts.
David C. Gibbs III is a lawyer for Coral Ridge, and expressed his view that “This Court’s ‘actual-malice’ standard, invented for a particular time and a particular purpose, has become obsolete and does not serve any of the interests it was designed to protect by limiting private individuals from bringing defamation claims against other private companies or individuals.”
He went on to say that Sullivan decision “no longer acts as a bulwark to protect civil rights” but is more “a sword used to bludgeon public figures with impunity while hiding behind this Court’s mistaken view of the First Amendment.”
The SPLC routinely labels groups and individuals “hateful” based on allegations, accusations, and limited to no actual data. They run hit pieces on investigative journalists who they don’t like, such as The Post Millennial’s Andy Ngo, and call other journalists and commentators, like Human Events Daily’s Jack Posobiec anti-semitic, despite ample and full evidence to the contrary. Jeff Bezos in 2020 said that he was considering breaking ties with the SPLC, noting that he’d “like a better source” if he can get it.
Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz has pointed out that the SPLC often labels Christian groups as hateful, a concern shared on Monday by Justice Thomas. Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Jeremy Tedesco said during congressional hearings in 2020 that “The SPLC actively lobbies corporations to harm and economically discriminate against groups and people they don’t like.” He added that the SPLC has been “completely discredited.”
Still, the Biden administration has teamed up with the SPLC to tackle “extremism.” This administration also notably undertook to investigate parents who go to school board meetings to demand higher educational quality, and less indoctrination, for their children.
The case of The New York Times v. Sullivan centered around an ad in defense of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. against charges against him. The ad contained some factual inaccuracies, and Montgomery, Alabama Public Safety Commissioner for the city said that those inaccuracies reflected badly on him, despite his not being named, and brought a libel suit.
In a lower, Alabama court, Sullivan was awarded damages. But when the case hit the Supreme Court, they ruled against Sullivan, saying that “public officials must meet a higher standard for libel judgments and show that the publisher acted with knowledge that something was false.”
It was in this case that the term “actual-malice” was coined, meaning that the media entity had to be proven to have willfully made the statements “with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.” Proving “actual-malice” is remarkably difficult to do, and very rarely succeeds in court.
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