Court’s ‘double standard’ lacks basis in ‘text, history or structure’ of Constitution
President Joe Biden and his liberal compatriots in politics, the media, and social media constantly are crowing about “misinformation.” Although the type of censorship they seem to support is not the answer, reconsideration of the legal standard governing defamation, as Justice Clarence Thomas has urged, might be.
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The Supreme Court denied certiorari Monday in the case of Coral Ridge Ministries Media v. Southern Poverty Law Center. In his dissent from the high court’s refusal to accept the appeal, Thomas once again urges fellow justices to reconsider the double standard for defamation that the court established in New York Times v. Sullivan in 1964. Thomas first did so in a longer dissent in 2021 in another case the court refused to hear, Berisha v. Lawson.
Coral Ridge Ministries, as Thomas explains, is a “Christian nonprofit dedicated to spreading the ‘Gospel of Jesus Christ’ and ‘a biblically informed view of the world.’” In 2017, Amazon told Coral Ridge Ministries that it was ineligible for Amazon’s nonprofit donation program because it had been labeled as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The ministry sued the Southern Poverty Law Center for defaming the organization, saying that although Coral Ridge “opposed homosexual conduct” due to its Christian beliefs, it is not a “hate group.” The ministry said it “has nothing but love for people who engage in homosexual conduct” and “has never attacked or maligned anyone on the basis of engaging in homosexual conduct.”
The defamation case was dismissed by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals because Coral Ridge Ministries is considered a “public figure” and could not prove that the Southern Poverty Law Center had acted with “actual malice” under the New York Times v. Sullivan standard when it made the “hate crime” claim about the ministry.
The “actual malice” standard is the issue that Thomas is complaining about.
In New York Times v. Sullivan, the Supreme Court suddenly created a new legal standard that never existed before in defamation law, which had been governed by state law since our founding, claiming this new standard was required by the Constitution.
Does this sound familiar? According to the court, two legal standards govern defamation lawsuits: one for those considered “private” figures or individuals and another, stricter standard for so-called public figures.