• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court limited the broad protection from libel suits granted newspapers by its 1964 decision.

Robert Welch, Inc., publisher of the John Birch SocietyJohn Birch Society magazine, used its publication to make a number of false, strongly defamatory statements attacking Elmer Gertz, an attorney representing citizens in a civil suit against a police officer convicted of second-degree murder. Gertz sued but could not show actual malice as required by the existing holding of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan[case]New York Times Co. v. Sullivan[New York Times Co. v. Sullivan] (1964). By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Gertz, holding that public officials and “public figures” had to show actual malice in order to recover damages for libel, but others, like Gertz, needed only to show some degree of fault. The Court limited its Sullivan ruling in Gertz, then limited Gertz in the case of Dun and Bradstreet v. Greenmoss Builders[case]Dun and Bradstreet v. Greenmoss Builders[Dun and Bradstreet v. Greenmoss Builders] (1985). Later, in Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co.[case]Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co.[Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co.] (1990) and other cases, it effectively expanded Gertz. Chief Justice Warren E. Burger and Justices William O. Douglas, William J. Brennan, Jr., and Byron R. White dissented.Libel;Gertz v. Robert Welch[Gertz v. Robert Welch]Press, freedom of;Gertz v. Robert Welch[Gertz v. Robert Welch]

First Amendment

Garrison v. Louisiana


Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co.

New York Times Co. v. Sullivan

Prior restraint

Time v. Hill

Categories: History