In a stunning decision, the highest court in the country has rejected the appeal made by a former CEO of an energy company. This rejection comes after an appeals court had tossed out a case where former CEO of Massey Energy, Don Blankenship, alleged that mainstream media outlets defamed his character by labelling him as a “felon“.
Justice Clarence Thomas used this opportunity to again bring up his call for the overturning of the landmark 1964 New York Times v Sullivan libel ruling, which he believes has no connection to the Constitution or its text, history and structure.
The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from former coal company executive Don Blankenship, who argued that major news outlets defamed him by calling him a "felon." https://t.co/jNOzRJwhXz
— The Associated Press (@AP) October 10, 2023
This case was originally from the Civil Rights movement in 1960s when The New York Times published an ad seeking donations to defend Martin Luther King Jr on perjury charges. This ad contained some factual inaccuracies and L.B Sullivan, Public Safety Commissioner at the time, felt this reflected poorly on him even though he wasn’t mentioned in it directly.
Sullivan then asked for a public retraction but when refused filed a libel action against The Times and some African American ministers mentioned in the ad.
A jury awarded him $500,000 dollars in damages which were later affirmed by the state supreme court before making it all way up to the Supreme Court eventually to answer if Alabama’s libel law constituted an unconstitutional infringement of freedom of speech and press protections according to First Amendment rights.
To be successful with a claim of defamation or libel under First Amendment requirements, plaintiffs must show that defendants were aware their statements were false or failed to adequately investigate accuracy before publishing them.
Justice Neil M Gorsuch joined Thomas’ criticism of this decision suggesting that actual malice doctrine was more applicable when there were fewer news sources dominated by outlets with investigative reporters, editors and fact checkers all working together checking facts thoroughly before publication.