When in 1735 that John Zenger was put on trial for “seditious libel,” for publishing inflammatory words against the royal governor of the New York Colony, there was not a First Amendment to protect him. The only people who were protected with freedom of speech were the members of Parliament as dictated in the Bill of Rights 1689. That changed when the jury ruled him not guilty because what he was saying was true. Libel would once again be re-defined 200 years later with New York Times Co. v. Sullivan.
On March 29, 1960, The New York Times published the paper with an ad bought by the “Committee to Defend Martin Luther King and the Struggle for Freedom in the South” that called for people to support the civil rights movement. Even though the ad was not directed towards a specific person, City Commissioner Sullivan took it as a personal offense when he read about the ad in an editorial from a local newspaper. Because the ad talked about the how Southerners were violators of the Constitution and referred to Montgomery, the city he worked for, he sued The New York Times for libel and defamation. While Sullivan won the case in the Alabama Circui...
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...e functioning of a complex government.” Harlan was concerned about overriding the authority of the president when it comes to foreign matters and determining if the information released would damage national security. Regardless, they all agreed that newspapers needed to “be fully aware of their ultimate responsibilities” to the country when deciding what to print.
Freedom of speech and press is essential for the United States to thrive. Times v. Sullivan defined the rights the press and the public had when publishing content about public figures. Times v. U.S. reminded the government that the press has a responsibility to the public to report the news regardless if it makes the government look bad. The power of the press is powerful, and while some limitations are expected, no case can undermine rights and responsibilities that are expected to have and commit to.
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