Trump to rescind NY Times V. Sullivan?


The reaction to Donald Trump’s proposed immigration policies has dominated the news since the inception of his presidential run. His pledge to deport undocumented residents and build a wall along the southern border of the United States has led to literal bloodshed in the streets on some occasions, as Trump haters have taken out their anger on his supporters.

Such bullying behavior is ironic, considering how one of the major criticisms of Citizen Trump is that he himself comes across as a bully at times. Such behavior is also sad, seeing as it serves to intimidate those who support Trump from exercising their First Amendment rights to do so.

One may disagree with Trump, or even revile him for vowing to send millions of people packing should he win the keys
to the Oval Office in November. Realistically, it’s hard to believe that such an impractical campaign promise could be carried out, but those who are o ended by the notion still have as much right to voice their displeasure as those who are hoping for a Trump/Pence victory.

It’s stated in the First Amendment.

Having said that, perhaps it’s fitting that the most realistic thing to fear about a Trump presidency could be his plan to dismember New York Times Co. v. Sullivan.

For those who haven’t heard (or have been too busy burning their neighbors’ “Make America Great Again” lawn posters to pay attention), perhaps it’s time to ex-plain what New York Times Co. v. Sullivan means to freedom of speech in America.

In 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan that “actual malice” must exist in order for a public official to sue for defamation. In other words, one must make statements that they know are false in order to be held liable.

Trump has vowed to “open up libel laws.”

if he becomes president by nominating judges to the Supreme Court who are sympathetic to overturning New York Times Co. v. Sullivan. A challenge to this land- mark case could mean that any criticism of a public figure could result in a lawsuit.

e goal, according to Trump, is to “sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.” As a budding journalist, I find this language to be chilling.

Responsible journalists have a safety net in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan. Irresponsible and reckless journalists do not. e idea that any politician would want to remove the standards that define what libel is will make any journalist think twice about writing anything even remotely critical of a public official.

But the concern spreads beyond journalism. If history has taught us anything it’s that those in power will try to silence dissenting voices. Is it really too much of a stretch to think that “opening up libel laws”  could eventually lead to situations where simply blogging criticisms of the government might bring about intimidating letters and threats of fines or imprisonment? If that sounds silly or conspiratorial, consider what happened in this country in 1798. President Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts into law.

While the Alien Act gave the government new powers to deport foreigners (sound familiar?), the Sedition Act served to prohibit public opposition to the government. Printing or publishing any “malicious writing” against the government could result in fines and imprisonment. As a result, over 20 news- paper editors wound up being arrested. Even a Congressman, Matthew Lyon of Vermont, wound up in prison for writing a letter critical of President Adams.

Fortunately, the Sedition Act expired in 1801.

New York Times Co. v. Sullivan came along in 1964 as the buffer that keeps it from coming back.

Keeping the current libel laws is how we can keep America great.