Friday, August 25, 2023
John M. Kang, University of New Mexico School of Law, is publishing Why the Actual Malice Test Should Be Eliminated in volume 50 of the Florida State University Law Review (2023). Here is the abstract.
Under traditional common law, a plaintiff could recover damages for libel if she could prove that the defendant had published a factual statement about the plaintiff that tended to injure the plaintiff’s reputation. The plaintiff, at most, was required to show negligence to recover damages for libel. While the amount of money that any given plaintiff could recover in damages was uncertain, one thing was clear: the First Amendment would not protect libel. In 1964 in New York Times v. Sullivan, the Supreme Court radically upended this received view of libel as unprotected speech. According to Sullivan, if the plaintiff were a public official and the statement said about him were a matter of public concern, the plaintiff would have to prove “actual malice.” Under Sullivan’s actual malice test, the plaintiff faced the daunting task of having to prove that the defendant made the libelous statement knowing that it was false or with reckless indifference as to its truth or falsity. The actual malice test thus afforded extraordinary and unprecedented protection for political speech which was libelous. While the notion of protecting libel might seem morally objectionable, the Sullivan Court was adamant that doing so was essential to protect the right of political criticism. For the Sullivan Court argued that the actual malice test would quell the fear of self-censorship that speakers would likely suffer in the absence of the actual malice test. The Court was not alone in its support of the actual malice test. Since its inception in Sullivan, the actual malice test has been celebrated as perhaps the most monumental contribution to First Amendment jurisprudence. Going against the grain, this Article calls for the wholesale elimination of the actual malice test.
Download the article from SSRN at the link.