A U.S. judge on Monday found that Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican U.S. vice presidential candidate, did not present sufficient evidence to win a defamation lawsuit against the New York Times, in a case seen as a test of longstanding protections for American media.
U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff in Manhattan said he will order the dismissal of Palin's lawsuit, but enter his order after her jury finishes its own deliberations. Rakoff said he expected Palin to appeal, and that the appeals court "would greatly benefit from knowing how the jury would decide it."
Rakoff's unusual order effectively preempted a potential jury verdict to the contrary.
Palin had sued the newspaper and its former editorial page editor James Bennet, arguing that a 2017 editorial incorrectly linked her to a mass shooting six years earlier that wounded Democratic U.S. congresswoman Gabby Giffords.
It is rare for a major media outlet to defend its editorial practices in court, as the Times had to do in this case.
Palin had said that if she lost at trial, her appeal might challenge New York Times v. Sullivan, the 1964 U.S. Supreme Court decision establishing the "actual malice" standard for public figures to prove defamation.
The lawsuit concerned a June 14, 2017, editorial headlined "America's Lethal Politics," that addressed gun control and lamented the rise of incendiary political rhetoric.
It was written the same day as a shooting at a congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia where Republican U.S. congressman Steve Scalise was wounded.
One of Bennet's colleagues prepared a draft that referred to the January 2011 shooting in a Tucson, Arizona, parking lot where six people were killed and Giffords was wounded.
Bennet inserted language that said "the link to political incitement was clear" between the Giffords shooting and a map previously circulated by Palin's political action committee that the draft editorial said put Giffords and 19 other Democrats under crosshairs.
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