The Modern Law Library

In 'Actual Malice,' law prof explains why NYT v. Sullivan mattered in 1964 and is under attack today

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Actual Malice book cover

The 1964 decision in New York Times v. Sullivan protected the civil rights movement, established the "actual malice" standard, and is the basis for modern American libel law. But in recent years, criticism of the case has grown among conservatives—with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas calling it "policy-driven decisions masquerading as constitutional law" and suggesting that the decision should be reconsidered.

In her new book, Actual Malice: Freedom of the Press and Civil Rights in New York Times v. Sullivan, law professor Samantha Barbas uses archival documents to shine light on the history behind the case and introduces readers to the pivotal figures involved.

She outlines the path that libel law jurisprudence had taken prior to 1964 and explains why the New York Times v. Sullivan case was such a departure.

In this episode of The Modern Law Library podcast, Barbas tells the ABA Journal’s Lee Rawles about the curious journalistic spat that led to the litigation, as well as the legal tactics used by the pro-segregationists who brought the suit. Barbas also gives listeners a glimpse at the complex and sometimes-counterintuitive characters involved in New York Times v. Sullivan, explains the stakes that the case holds for the 21st century, and shares the story of perhaps the only lawyer who’s ever had to argue before the Supreme Court without wearing socks.

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In This Podcast:

<p>Samantha Barbas</p>

Samantha Barbas

Samantha Barbas is the author of several books on media history and law, with a focus on journalism, privacy, libel and the First Amendment. She is a professor at the University at Buffalo School of Law in the State University of New York system. She has a PhD in history from the University of California at Berkeley and a JD from Stanford Law School. She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar Award. Her previous books include Confidential Confidential: The Inside Story of Hollywood’s Notorious Scandal Magazine, Newsworthy: The Supreme Court Battle Over Privacy and Press Freedom, and The Rise and Fall of Morris Ernst, Free Speech Renegade. Actual Malice: Freedom of the Press and Civil Rights in New York Times v. Sullivan is her most recent book.

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