Mike Pence challenges Gov. DeSantis's view on 'actual malice' defamation lawsuit standard

By 
 April 8, 2023

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has proven that he walks the walk when it comes to protecting conservative speech and actions in Florida, but his latest move is drawing criticism from some other corners of the conservative movement.

According to the Washington Examiner, former Vice President Mike Pence isn't thrilled with the idea that DeSantis is pushing Florida's legislature to expand current defamation laws, ultimately making it easier for media outlets to be sued.

Pence, viewed as a likely 2024 presidential candidate, appears to be done with his passive voice as the election nears and is now notably contesting former President Donald Trump's potentially toughest 2024 rival in DeSantis.

Both DeSantis and Pence remain undeclared, though both have made numerous moves pointing to a high likelihood of jumping into the presidential fray.

Pence speaks out

The former vice president made his position clear as far as where he stands on defamation and the standards necessary to prove it.

The "actual malice" standard was established in the famous New York Times v. Sullivan U.S. Supreme Court case. DeSantis' idea of defamation would require a lower standard, making it much easier for individuals to sue news outlets.

"Well, let me just say in the broadest sense, I believe a free and independent press is a bulwark of our nation," Pence said in an exclusive interview with the Examiner.

He added: "From my years in Congress, as a governor and, I trust, as vice president, we've worked to preserve the ability of the media, however maddening it can be from time to time, we’ve worked hard to preserve the freedom of the press to thrive in America. I would hold to the view that any effort to intrude upon that would not be in the interest of the nation."

The outlet noted:

Under current law, the actual malice standard requires a defendant to make a knowingly false statement or have a reckless disregard for the truth when making a defamatory statement about a public figure.

What is "actual malice?"

New York Times Co. v. Sullivan was a landmark case in US law that set an important precedent for freedom of speech and the press. In this case, SCOTUS established the "actual malice" standard for libel cases involving public figures.

The actual malice standard requires that public figures who sue for libel must prove that the defendant acted with actual malice or a reckless disregard for the truth when making allegedly defamatory statements. This standard provides a higher level of protection for freedom of speech and press than the previous law.

The implications of the ruling are significant, as it provides greater protection for freedom of speech and press by making it more difficult for public officials and other public figures to sue for libel. It also encourages the media to report on matters of public interest without fear of being sued for libel, as long as they act in "good faith" and with a reasonable basis for their reporting.

Only time will tell if DeSantis and the Florida Legislature take steps to change the standards set by the case, but if they do, it'll definitely be one of the hottest political topics of the 2024 election season.

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
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