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New York Times Company v. Sullivan

Citation. 376 U.S. 254, 84 S. Ct. 710, 11 L. Ed. 2d 686, 1964 U.S.
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Brief Fact Summary.

A newspaper is being sued for publishing a full-page advertisement that was critical of a public official in Alabama.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A public official must show by clear and convincing evidence that the statements made against him are false and were made with actual malice. Actual malice requires the speaker to know that the statement was false or that he acted with reckless disregard for the truth.


Sullivan (Respondent) is a Commissioner of Montgomery, Alabama. In his official capacity, he supervises the police and fire departments of the city. In 1960, the New York Times (Petitioner) ran a full-page advertisement describing the plight of black students in the South and the “wave of terror” they endured at the hands of the public official. Specific events were enumerated along with a request for donations. A lower court awarded damages of $500,000.00 to Respondent for the injury caused to his reputation.


Can a public official bring suit against critics of his official conduct?


No. Public officials cannot recover because the media does not agree with his actions and chooses to publish unflattering reports.


The Supreme Court of the United States discusses the importance of preserving speech as the currency of social change. Even if a thought is unpopular it cannot be squashed. This is the whole point of the Constitutional Amendment to protect speech and critical of government. Free speech encourages democracy and abandons the repression of a monarchy.

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