Tesser Ryan Blog

Judge Jed Rakoff Signals he will Dismiss Sarah Palin’s Defamation Case against the New York Times

Judge Jed Rakoff announced in court today that he is prepared to dismiss former Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s defamation claim against the New York Times. 

Palin has sued the New York Times for defamation stemming from an editorial piece published the same day that a gunman opened fire at a baseball diamond critically injuring Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana.  Palin has claimed that the Time’s editorial unfairly linked her to a mass shooting that took place in Arizona in 2011 where Senator Gabby Giffords was injured.

Judge Rakoff explained that Palin’s legal team had failed, as a matter of law, to meet the “actual malice” standard articulated by the United States Supreme Court in order to properly allege a defamation claim against a “public figure.” 

Under the “actual malice” standard, as articulated in New York Times v. Sullivan 376 U.S. 254 (1964), Ms. Palin’s attorneys would need to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the Times had printed the editorial “with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.”

Despite Judge Rakoff’s ruling, the Judge will still let the jury, who have been delivering for over two days, to reach a final verdict.  Judge Rakoff explained that the rather unusual decision was due to that he viewed an appeal in the case was “inevitable,” and that the verdict would be helpful to an appeals court. 

Ms. Palin has indicated that she will appeal this case to the Supreme Court if necessary in hope of overturning the standard set out in Sullivan.  Recently, Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch have shown willingness to revisit the “actual malice” standard and to reconsider whether that standard is consistent with the First Amendment.