Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is reportedly leading an effort to redefine defamation so that slanderers are easier to sue.
“I continue to adhere to my view that we should reconsider the actual-malice standard,” he wrote in an opinion filed this Tuesday, according to Courthouse News Service.
The case concerned a former coal baron who challenged the “actual-malice standard” by alleging that the media’s lies had led to him losing a Senate campaign.
The Supreme Court ultimately decided not to review the coal baron’s case. Thomas agreed with the decision but “urged the justices to review a similar case in the future” so they can tackle the “actual-malice standard,” according to Courthouse News Service.
The “actual-malice standard” traces back to New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, a landmark 1964 U.S. Supreme Court case that said the First Amendment limits the ability of public officials to sue for defamation/slander.
“For almost 60 years, the landmark ruling has protected the press from defamation suits in favor of fostering debate about government and public affairs,” Courthouse News Service notes.
“In New York Times v. Sullivan, the court declared that public officials can only recover damages from a defamatory falsehood relating to their official conduct if they can prove that the statements were made with knowledge that they were false or with reckless disregard to whether they were false or not,” according to the service.
In his Tuesday option, Thomas reportedly accused the Times of having usurped control over libel laws to create their own standard — one which he evidently opposes.
“‘New York Times and the Court’s decisions extending it were policy-driven decisions masquerading as constitutional law. The decisions have no relation to the text, history, or structure of the Constitution. And the actual-malice standard comes at a heavy cost, allowing media organizations and interest groups to cast false aspersions on public figures with near impunity,” he wrote.
He would know. He’s been a constant victim of the media’s lies and smears.
Most recently, The New York Times published a report on July 29th claiming that billionaire Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had gifted Thomas with a Super Bowl ring, among other things.
“Over the years, he [Thomas] flew in Mr. Jones’s private jet. Mr. Jones gave him a Super Bowl ring. He attended the Cowboys’ training camp, and when the team played in Washington, he sat in the owner’s box,” the Times breathlessly reported.
A couple weeks later, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram picked up the Times’ story and ran its own asking why Thomas had been gifted such an expensive item. The Dallas Morning News reportedly also got in on the smear.
Yet by August, evidence had emerged proving the original report was based on a fabrication.
“It was a replica ring,” Teton Capital CEO David Sokol, a member of the Horatio Alger Association who’s reportedly known both Thomas and Jones for years, told Fox News at the time.
“People are just looking for ways to attack conservative Supreme Court members. They just run with stuff even when they know it’s not accurate,” he added.
Sokol wasn’t alone in saying this. A former Thomas staffer who worked with him around the time the ring was gifted to him also said the same.
“It was a replica, it had hardly any value. It was just used as a paperweight. I was there, I was working for the justice at the time, and I can assure you it was just a replica. I saw it, I held it, I handled it,” the staffer remarked.
Mark Paoletta, a longtime Thomas friend and also biographer, likewise said to Fox News that the latest smear was just “another one of those sloppy stories where reporters want to believe the most ridiculous allegations” against Justice Thomas.
“Justice Thomas appreciated receiving a replica Super Bowl ring from the Cowboys, and that’s all it was as is clear from the photos. He used it as a paperweight. How could New York Times reporters get this so wrong?” he said.
Better yet, how is it that the law forbids someone like Thomas from suing the Times over the bull that they published about him?
The same media that just had a spastic frothing-at-the-mouth fit over Clarence Thomas being given a replica Super Bowl ring says there is no story worth covering here. https://t.co/g9F6QiGuYS
— John Hayward (@Doc_0) August 10, 2023
This isn’t the first time that the Supreme Court justice has called for the high court to consider New York Times v. Sullivan.
“Just a few months ago, the conservative justice attacked the ruling in Sullivan in a fiery dissent in which he called it ‘flawed.’ Thomas issued other public critiques of Sullivan in recent years, including in 2019, when he wrote that the ruling and ‘the Court’s decisions extending it were policy-driven decisions masquerading as constitutional law,'” CNN notes.