Libel and Slander Archives
Air Wisconsin Airlines Corp. v. Hoeper (2014) dealt with immunity for
reporting information that might be considered defamatory and unprotected
by the First Amendment.
In Anderson v. Liberty Lobby (1986), the Supreme Court required application
of the clear and convincing evidence standard to decide if a journalist had
displayed actual malice.
Ashton v. Kentucky (1966) held that most criminal libel laws violated the
First Amendment. The laws had allowed charges against those who published
false and malicious statements.
In Associated Press v. Walker (1967), the Supreme Court ruled that public
figures should be treated differently from public officials when they sue
Balzac v. People of Porto Rico (1922) affirmed a libel decision. The main
issues were jurisdiction and whether a right to a jury trial applied in
In Barr v. Matteo (1959), the Supreme Court affirmed immunity from
prosecution for libel involving statements made by officers of the
Barrett v. Rosenthal (Cal. 2006) ruled that Section 230 of the
Communications Decency Act gives those who republish defamatory comments
online broad immunity from defamation suits.
Beauharnais v. Illinois (1952) is the precedent for the constitutionality
of state group-libel laws, but later precedents were so powerful that the
decision retains little force.
Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch dissented in a July 2021 Supreme
Court denial to review a defamation case against “War Dogs” author Guy
Lawson, saying the actual malice standard needed to be revisited.
Cantrell v. Forest City Publishing Co. (1974) ruled against a newspaper for
an article casting the plaintiff in false light, showing the limits of
First Amendment press freedom.
Commonwealth v. Blanding (Mass. 1825) epitomized the common law libel
understanding of some state judiciaries at the time: “the greater the
truth, the greater the libel.”
In Commonwealth v. Clapp (Mass. 1808) illumines state law prior to the
application of the First Amendment to the states. Libel was considered
In Cox Broadcasting v. Cohn (1975), the Supreme Court said journalists had
a First Amendment right to release information found in public domain
Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts (1967) upheld a libel judgment and gave the
Court the opportunity to clarify the First Amendment standard of libel for
Dun and Bradstreet, Inc. v. Greenmoss Builders, Inc. (1985) said nonmedia
distributors of information do not enjoy First Amendment protections as
defendants in libel lawsuits.
Farmers Educational and Cooperative Union of America v. WDAY (1959), did
not mention the First Amendment, but involved a libel issue dealing with
right of reply.
In Florida Star v. B.J.F. (1989), the Supreme Court said the First
Amendment stopped a newspaper from being held liable for publishing a rape
Gandia v. Pettingill served as a precedent for protecting First Amendment
rights by making libel judgments difficult to win.
In Garrison v. Louisiana, the court determined the criminal libel law in
Louisiana to be unconstitutional. The ruling continued the refinement of
In Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., the court ruled that the First Amendment
does not require a private individual who is libeled to prove actual malice
in a defamation suit.
Greenbelt Cooperative Publishing Association v. Bresler held that
rhetorical hyperbole is not actionable as defamation if a reasonable reader
would not understand a phrase to be a literal.
Harte-Hanks Communications v. Connaughton (1989) decided that public
figures can establish libel by showing that a publisher acted with reckless
disregard for the truth.
Henry v. Collins (1965) reversed a libel conviction after public officials
could not meet the standard to prove libel. Libel is not protected by the
Herbert v. Lando (1979) held there is no protection under the First
Amendment shielding the editorial process for new stories when the stories
provoke libel charges.
In Hustler Magazine v. Falwell, the Court ruled that the First Amendment
protects publishers’ rights from claims by public figures regarding
materials labeled as parodies.
Hutchinson v. Proxmire (1979) ruled that Congress members do not have
protection under the Constitution or First Amendment for libelous
statements made outside Congress.
Letter Carriers v. Austin (1974) ruled the term “scab” could not be the
basis of a libel claim by a non-union member as rhetorical hyperbole is
protected by the First Amendment.
Linn v. United Plant Guard Workers of America (1966), which dealt with a
union organizing campaign, affirmed that libel is not protected by the
In Masson v. New Yorker Magazine (1991), the Court ruled that altering
interviewees’ words was not libelous unless the alterations resulted in a
change in the statement’s meaning.
McDonald v. Smith (1985) held that the petition clause of the First
Amendment does not endow individuals with absolute immunity from charges of
slander and libel.
Justice Clarence Thomas in 2019 called into question the actual malice
standard and suggested the Court review libel law. His reasoning was
outlined in a concurring opinion to the court’s refusal to take up a
defamation case, McKee v. Cosby.
Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co.(1990) ruled that opinions can be defamatory
and that no First Amendment shield for the expression of defamatory
opinions is appropriate.
Monitor Patriot Co. v. Roy (1971) affirmed the actual malice standard from
New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964) for judging whether an article
New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964) required public officials to show
prove actual malice in libel cases, enhancing First Amendment protection of
Ocala Star-Banner Co. v. Damron (1971) showed how the “actual malice” test
of the landmark libel case extended to individuals running for public
The 1804 New York State Supreme Court ruling in People v. Croswell
introduced that truth should be a defense to libel, even as the court
upheld a libel conviction. This truth defense, written by Judge James Kent,
was influential and incorporated into subsequent libel cases.
A case against The Philadelphia Inquirer led the Supreme Court to rule in
1986 that a private figure plaintiff who sues a news organization for libel
bears the burden of proving the libelous statement was false.
Following a landmark First Amendment case, Rosenblatt v. Baer (1966)
remanded a libel case for determination of whether a manager of a
county-owned ski resort was a public figure.
Rosenbloom v. Metromedia, Inc. (1971) balanced First Amendment rights
against reputation interests and applied the actual malice standard to
public interest cases.
St. Amant v. Thompson (1968) said reckless disregard for the truth in libel
cases meant a person doubted the truth of a statement. Libel is unprotected
by the First Amendment.
In Time, Inc. v. Firestone (1976) provided more guidance in determining
when a person suing for libel (or defamation) is a public figure or a
Time, Inc. v. Hill (1967) extended the actual malice standard to a false
light invasion of privacy to ensure the First Amendment freedom of the
press was not burdened.
In Time, Inc. v. Pape (1971), the Supreme Court dismissed a conviction
against Time magazine, finding that the magazine did not engage in “actual
Tory v. Cochran (2005) vacated and remanded a decision that had issued a
permanent injunction against Tory, who claimed the injunction infringed on
his First Amendment rights.
In 1812, the Supreme Court overturned the criminal libel convictions of the
owners of the Hartford Courant who had published an article accusing the
president and Congress of secretly giving $2 million to Napoleon. The Court
established that there was no common law crime of libel.
In what has been described as “the last gasp of seditious libel” in the
United States, the Supreme Court in 1911 quashed federal indictments
against several New York publishers over stories that alleged Theodore
Roosevelt profited from the Panama Canal sale. In United States v. Press
Publishing, the Court recognized there was no federal libel law.
A federal district judge in 1909 stopped the prosecution of the
Indianapolis Star for allegedly libelous stories about President Theodore
Roosevelt. Roosevelt had sought prosecution in Washington D.C., but the
judge in United States v. Smith said citizens could not be dragged from
distant states to the nation’s capital for prosecution.
White v. Nicholls (1845) said that letters sent about the fitness for
office of public officials could be found to be libelous. Libel is not
protected by the First Amendment.
Wolston v. Reader’s Digest (1979) said that private individuals did not
transform into public figures in libel cases where they had involuntarily
become involved in public issues.
Zeran v. America Online, Inc. (4th Cir. 1997) said the Communications
Decency Act of 1996 provides broad immunity to Internet service providers
(ISPs) from online libel suits.