The Supreme Court held that the speech and debate clause applied only to statements made on the floor of the House or Senate and that members of Congress could be sued for allegedly libelous statements contained in press releases and newsletters to their constituents.
Senator William Proxmire regularly announced Golden Fleece awards in order to publicize the issue of wasteful government spending. One of the awards was bestowed on psychologist Ronald Hutchinson for his work on aggression in monkeys. Hutchinson sued for libel damages, claiming that the publicity had harmed his professional reputation and had caused him emotional anguish. By a 7-1 vote, the Supreme Court allowed the suit to proceed, holding that congressional immunity under Article I of the U.S. Constitution did not apply to press releases or newsletters because such activities were not essential to congressional deliberations. In addition, the Court found that Hutchinson was not a public figure, which meant that he could prevail under a less rigorous standard of proof than the actual malice standard required of public figures.
Congress, arrest and immunity of members of
New York Times Co. v. Sullivan
Speech and debate clause