(TruthandLiberty.com) – In America, freedom of speech and freedom of the press are among some of the most cherished liberties in the Bill of Rights. However, in years past, federal courts have ruled not every constitutional amendment is absolute, yet the position ought to be ruled on with extreme prejudice and seldomly. For example, yelling “fire” in a movie theater is not a protected freedom of speech.
What about when the media blatantly defames someone’s character? Is that protected speech? What are the legal limits? Former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin asked a jury those and other questions in a defamation lawsuit earlier in February.
In June 2017, the New York Times wrongly claimed an ad placed by Palin’s Political Action Committee contributed to a mass shooting months later. On Tuesday, February 15, District Judge Jed Rakoff threw out the case as the jury was deliberating. On Saturday, legal expert Alan Dershowitz questioned the decision.
Dershowitz Says Judge Made a Mistake
Rakoff ruled in a one-two punch for Palin, suggesting that he believed a higher court should decide the case. The judge said Palin didn’t make a strong enough case for malice, a necessary element for a defamation lawsuit. When the jury entered the courtroom, the judge informed them their decision was moot, although the jury had also sided with the New York Times.
In 1964, the US Supreme Court ruled the bar for determining malice was that a newspaper needed to knowingly publish false information or recklessly disregard that facts were easy to disprove. Radoff told the jurors that he decided the law while they decided the facts.
Palin is likely to appeal the case, which may be precisely what Judge Rakoff was hoping she would do.
Dershowitz argued the judge made a mistake in his ruling, and the jury’s verdict was moot on an appeal. The law professor said Judge Rakoff wrote an opinion about the piece while the jury deliberated. It’s entirely plausible jurors received a text about his decision even though he could not officially file it at that moment. Dershowitz added the judge should have dismissed the jury before it deliberated or waited until after the jury decision. Instead, he bypassed the jury and wrote an opinion anyway, violating legal precedent.
Will the Courts Redefine Malice?
Dershowitz added he believed the Appeals Court or the US Supreme Court could redefine malice and the libel standard to achieve it. Depending on how a court might redefine malice and libel, it could make it harder for the media to blatantly smear Conservatives without facts.
Additionally, the famed Harvard law professor said he believed an appeals court would disregard the jury’s verdict because of the way Rakoff handled the case, potentially causing undue jury influence.
Dershowitz said Rakoff may have given Palin’s attorneys a gift horse on appeal. Stay tuned; this case is likely far from over.
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