Justice Clarence Thomas on Monday dissented from the Supreme Court's decision not to revisit a landmark First Amendment ruling.
The New York Times v. Sullivan is a 1964 decision that created a higher bar for public figures to claim libel and has been the basis of U.S. media law.
Coral Ridge Ministries Media, a not-for-profit Christian ministry, lost in lower courts and subsequently filed a petition with the Supreme Court asking to revisit the libel standard. The court on Monday said it would not do so.
Thomas disagreed with the court’s Coral Ridge decision.
"I would grant certiorari in this case to revisit the 'actual malice' standard," Thomas wrote in his dissent. "This case is one of many showing how New York Times and its progeny have allowed media organizations and interest groups 'to cast false aspersions on public figures with near impunity.' "
Thomas on Friday said the court should reconsider rulings that currently protect contraception, same-sex relationships, and same-sex marriage. He expressed his thoughts in a concurring opinion with the decision overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.
Thomas and Justice Neil Gorsuch previously had urged the justices to revisit The New York Times v. Sullivan decision, which established the requirement that public figures show "actual malice" before they can succeed in a libel dispute against a newspaper or individual.
Coral Ridge sought to sue the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for defamation for calling Coral Ridge a "hate group" — a designation that appears on its website and is used in some of its fundraising materials, publications, and training programs, CNN reported.
"This Court's 'actual-malice' standard, invented for a particular time and a particular purpose, has become obsolete and does not serve any of the interests it was designed to protect by limiting private individuals from bringing defamation claims against other private companies or individuals," David C. Gibbs III, a lawyer for Coral Ridge, told the justices, CNN reported.
SPLC attorneys countered that court precedents "belie the notion that actual malice presents an insurmountable hurdle for public figure defamation plaintiffs," CNN said.
District courts have reinforced this precedent in recent months, most notably during former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's defamation suit against the Times. The judge and jury determined that plaintiff Palin failed to prove actual malice.
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