Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas stirred up debate on social media and among pundits after calling for a re-evaluation of landmark New York Times Co. v. Sullivan ruling, which makes it hard for public figures to prevail in libel suits against media companies.
Thomas believes that the court’s 1964 conclusions “were policy-driven decisions masquerading as constitutional law.”
His argument came amid an order relating to a case involving Bill Cosby and a woman who accused the disgraced comedian of sexual misconduct in 2014, the Huffington Post reports.
“We should not continue to reflexively apply this policy-driven approach to the Constitution. Instead, we should carefully examine the original meaning of the First and Fourteenth Amendments,” Thomas reportedly wrote alongside the order, CNN writes.
“If the Constitution does not require public figures to satisfy an actual-malice standard in state-law defamation suits, then neither should we,” the opinion states.
Thomas continued, saying “We did not begin meddling in this area until 1964, nearly 175 years after the First Amendment was ratified. The States are perfectly capable of striking an acceptable balance between encouraging robust public discourse and providing a meaningful remedy for reputational harm. We should reconsider our jurisprudence in this area.”
Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and University of Texas School of Law professor, Donald Trump supports Thomas’ opinion. He too has called for libel laws to be re-examined in light of his so-called crusade against fake news.
“Since he was on the campaign trail, President Trump has complained about libel laws in the United States, and has argued that they should be rewritten,” Vladeck said. “Justice Thomas’s opinion today concurring in the denial of certiorari is a roadmap to exactly that result.”
At least four justices would need to sign off on such a case should one ever reach the high court. According to reports, no other justice shared Thomas’ opinion on Tuesday.