New York Times v. Sullivan (1964)
Freedom of the press: libel and slander
Decision Date: March 9, 1964
Background: In 1960, the New York Times ran a full-page advertisement paid for by civil right activists. The ad openly criticized the police department in the city of Montgomery, Alabama for its treatment of civil rights protestors. Most of the descriptions in the ad were accurate, but some of the statements were false. The police commissioner, L. B. Sullivan, took offense to the ad and sued the New York Times in an Alabama court. Sullivan argued that the ad had damaged his reputation, and he had been libeled. The Alabama court ruled in favor of Sullivan, finding that the newspaper ad falsely represented the police department and Sullivan. After losing an appeal in the Supreme Court of Alabama, the New York Times took its case to the United States Supreme Court arguing that the ad was not meant to hurt Sullivan's reputation and was protected under the First Amendment.
Decision: The United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of the newspaper. The Court said the right to publish all statements is protected under the First Amendment. The Court also said in order to prove libel, a public official must show that what was said against them was made with actual malice – "that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard for the truth."