Todayis theanniversary of one of the most important decisions in Supreme Court history that affected the civil rights movement and defined the free speech powers of the press: the case of the New York Times v. Sullivan.
Justice William Brennan
On March 9, 1964, aunanimous Supreme Court said public officialsindefamation cases against the press needed toprove actual malice orknowledge that [a statement made]was false or with reckless disregard for the truth.
In a world before the New York Times decision, the press had limited legal protections against libel and slander lawsuits, especially those launched by public officials who didnt like negative press coverage.
The case began in 1960, when the New York Times ran a full-page advertisement paid for by civil right activists that offered support for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the civil rights struggle in Alabama.
The advertisement openly criticized the police department in the city of Montgomery, Alabama for its treatment of civil rights protestors, and it also included several inaccurate statements.
The police commissioner, L. B. Sullivan, took offense and sued the New York Times in an Alabama court, as part of an effort launched in Alabama to file ...