Suit from Christian group could give SCOTUS chance to reconsider ‘actual malice’ standard

A case currently making its way to the U.S. Supreme Court may present the court with the opportunity to reconsider its landmark holding in a 1964 defamation suit, Fox News reports.

First handed down more than five decades ago, the court’s decision in New York Times v. Sullivan established the rule that makes it necessary for public figures to prove “actual malice” in defamation suits against third parties.

In the words of Justice Clarence Thomas, this means that “public figures cannot establish libel without proving by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with ‘actual malice’ — that is with knowledge that the published material ‘was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false.’” According to Fox, the justice’s comments came in a written dissent just last month.

Many conservatives, including Thomas himself, have suggested that the “actual malice” standard ought to be adjusted for the modern world. Now, a case may soon come before the court that would give SCOTUS the opportunity to do just this.

The case

This opportunity comes via a defamation suit by D. James Kennedy Ministries (DJKM) against the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

According to Fox, DJKM alleges that the SPLC places Christian organizations like it in the same category as “hate groups” like the Ku Klux Klan. The SPLC, specifically, has referred to DJKM as an “anti-LGBT hate group,” the ministry alleges.

DJKM also said this designation has impacted the group by hurting its fundraising. Amazon, for example, determines eligibility for its Amazon Smile charity program based on SPLC’s “hate group” list.

Accordingly, DJKM has sued both the SPLC and Amazon for both defamation and discrimination.

Thus far, though, the organization hasn’t been able to get anywhere in the legal system. Lower courts have repeatedly dismissed their case on the grounds that it hasn’t met the standard set by New York Times v. Sullivan.

An opportunity

David Gibbs III, a member of DJKM’s legal team, recently told Fox that it’s high time for the Supreme Court to revisit that precedent.

“[DJKM] is the perfect case to overturn the actual-malice standard because you have a non-profit organization that is religiously doing their mission, they have done it consistently, they are being defamed in a most awful way,” Gibbs explained, according to Fox. “When you are an organization based on truth and love but you are called a hate group, that is per se defamation under Alabama law.”

It remains to be seen, however, whether the high court will actually take up the case.

Share on facebook
Share To Facebook

Welcome to our comments section. We want to hear from you!

Any comments with profanity, advocacy of violence, harassment, personally identifiable information or other violations will be removed. If you feel your comment has been removed in error please contact us!

Latest Posts