Judge Clarence Thomas criticizes Supreme Court's landmark decision on freedom of the press


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By Pete Williams

WASHINGTON – Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas Tuesday criticized a landmark press freedom case, calling for a fresh look at the rule that public figures can not sue for defamation unless they demonstrate that they made a malicious statement.

In the case of New York Times v. Sullivan of 1964, the court ruled that a public figure had to prove that a defamatory statement had been made "knowing that she was wrong or not caring whether or not it was". was wrong or not. The case was brought by an Alabama County official who claimed that he had been defamed by an advertisement in the newspaper criticizing the police response to the civil rights movement.

Thomas called the decision and similar cases in subsequent cases "political decisions concealed in constitutional law" and said the court should reconsider its decision.

"If the Constitution does not require that public figures satisfy a standard of malice in defamation lawsuits, then we should not do it either."

President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized the legal rules governing defamation actions as sham and dishonor.

"We are going to take a close look at our country's laws on defamation, so that when someone says something wrong and defamatory, he will have an effective remedy in our courts," he said. one year ago.

Thomas' comments appeared Tuesday in a notice confirming the court's refusal to hear Katherine McKee's appeal, who claimed she had been raped by Bill Cosby. She said that Cosby's lawyer had leaked a letter that distorted her background and damaged her reputation.

The lower courts dismissed the case, citing the 1964 precedent, Times v. Sullivan. They said by revealing his accusation against Cosby to a journalist that she had "put at the forefront of a public controversy" and that she therefore had to comply with the more demanding standard in the matter of defamation that applies to public figures.

She appealed these decisions and the Supreme Court refused to take the case by an apparently unanimous vote. Thomas said he was in agreement that the New York Times precedent demanded this result, but that the 1964 affair was wrongly taken.

Before the decision in the Times, Thomas said, a person who alleged defamation had only to prove that a statement was false and that it resulted in ridicule, hatred or contempt. The libels against public figures were considered more serious than ordinary defamations, he said.

No other judge has joined his opinion.

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