Simon and Schuster Wins Libel Case but Two SCOTUS Justices Want to Reexamine NY Times v. Sullivan
Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States denied a request to hear Berisha v. Lawson, a libel case brought by the son of a Albania’s former prime minister against Simon and Schuster and Guy Lawson, the publisher and author of Arms and the Dudes: How Three Stoners From Miami Beach Became the Most Unlikely Gunrunners in History. The book examined weapons procurement and was adapted into the motion picture War Dogs. Berisha claimed that Lawson and Simon and Schuster falsely linked him to an illicit arms deal. The district court and 11th circuit, relying on New York Times v. Sullivan, the landmark 1964 libel case which set the standard that public figures must prove “actual malice” in libel cases, ruled in favor of Simon and Schuster and Lawson. Actual malice means that the writer knew a statement was false or disregarded the truth of the statement and published it anyway. Sullivan has stood for nearly 60 years.
Although this was a win for Simon and Schuster and Lawson, what is most interesting were the dissenting opinions, in which Justices Gorsuch and Thomas called to reexamine Sullivan.
The justices’ call to review Sullivan is influenced partly by the role of modern media in today’s society. They claim that actual malice can protect lies instead of the truth. Justice Thomas wrote “The proliferation of falsehoods is, and always has been, a serious matter. Instead of continuing to insulate those who perpetrate lies from traditional remedies like libel suits, we should give them only the protection the First Amendment requires.” Justice Gorsuch said the actual malice standard may have made more sense in the 1960s, when there were less and more reliable news outlets. He claimed that wasn’t the case today.