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Defamation

Thus we consider this case against the background of a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials. [Cc] The present advertisement, as an expression of grievance and protest on one of the major public issues of our time, would seem clearly to qualify for the constitutional protection. The question is whether it forfeits that protection by the falsity of some of its factual statements and by its alleged defamation of respondent.

Authoritative interpretations of the First Amendment guarantees have consistently refused to recognize an exception for any test of truth-whether administered by judges, juries, or administrative officials-and especially one that puts the burden of proving truth on the speaker. [Cc] The constitutional protection does not turn upon ‘the truth, popularity, or social utility of the ideas and beliefs which are offered.’[Cc] As Madison said, ‘Some degree of abuse is inseparable from the proper use of every thing; and in no instance is this more true than in that of the press.’ 4 Elliot’s Debates on the Federal Constitution (1876), p. 571. In Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 310 the Court declared:

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