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NewYorkTimesCo.v.Sullivan
376U.S.254

NewYorkTimesCo.v.Sullivan(No.39)

Argued:January6,1964

Decided:March9,1964

273Ala.656,144So.2d25,reversedandremanded.

Syllabus
Opinion,Brennan
Concurrence,Black
Concurrence,Goldberg

Syllabus

Respondent,anelectedofficialinMontgomery,Alabama,broughtsuitinastatecourtallegingthathehad
beenlibeledbyanadvertisementincorporatepetitioner'snewspaper,thetextofwhichappearedoverthe
namesofthefourindividualpetitionersandmanyothers.Theadvertisementincludedstatements,someof
whichwerefalse,aboutpoliceactionallegedlydirectedagainststudentswhoparticipatedinacivilrights
demonstrationandagainstaleaderofthecivilrightsmovementrespondentclaimedthestatements
referredtohimbecausehisdutiesincludedsupervisionofthepolicedepartment.Thetrialjudgeinstructed
thejurythatsuchstatementswere"libelousperse,"legalinjurybeingimpliedwithoutproofofactual
damages,andthat,forthepurposeofcompensatorydamages,malicewaspresumed,sothatsuch
damagescouldbeawardedagainstpetitionersifthestatementswerefoundtohavebeenpublishedby
themandtohaverelatedtorespondent.Astopunitivedamages,thejudgeinstructedthatmerenegligence
wasnotevidenceofactualmalice,andwouldnotjustifyanawardofpunitivedamagesherefusedto
instructthatactualintenttoharmorrecklessnesshadtobefoundbeforepunitivedamagescouldbe
awarded,orthataverdictforrespondentshoulddifferentiatebetweencompensatoryandpunitive
damages.Thejuryfoundforrespondent,andtheStateSupremeCourtaffirmed.

Held:AStatecannot,undertheFirstandFourteenthAmendments,awarddamagestoapublicofficialfor
defamatoryfalsehoodrelatingtohisofficialconductunlessheproves"actualmalice"thatthestatement
wasmadewithknowledgeofitsfalsityorwithrecklessdisregardofwhetheritwastrueorfalse.Pp.265
292.

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(a)Applicationbystatecourtsofaruleoflaw,whetherstatutoryornot,toawardajudgmentinacivilaction,
is"stateaction"undertheFourteenthAmendment.P.265.

(b)Expressiondoesnotloseconstitutionalprotectiontowhichitwouldotherwisebeentitledbecauseit
appearsintheformofapaidadvertisement.Pp.265266.[p255]

(c)Factualerror,contentdefamatoryofofficialreputation,orboth,areinsufficienttowarrantanawardof
damagesforfalsestatementsunless"actualmalice"knowledgethatstatementsarefalseorinreckless
disregardofthetruthisallegedandproved.Pp.279283.

(d)Statecourtjudgmententereduponageneralverdictwhichdoesnotdifferentiatebetweenpunitive
damages,astowhich,understatelaw,actualmalicemustbeproved,andgeneraldamages,astowhichit
is"presumed,"precludesanydeterminationastothebasisoftheverdict,andrequiresreversal,where
presumptionofmaliceisinconsistentwithfederalconstitutionalrequirements.P.284.

(e)Theevidencewasconstitutionallyinsufficienttosupportthejudgmentforrespondent,sinceitfailedto
supportafindingthatthestatementsweremadewithactualmaliceorthattheyrelatedtorespondent.Pp.
285292.

[p256]

TOP
Opinion

BRENNAN,J.,OpinionoftheCourt

MR.JUSTICEBRENNANdeliveredtheopinionoftheCourt.

Wearerequiredinthiscasetodetermineforthefirsttimetheextenttowhichtheconstitutionalprotections
forspeechandpresslimitaState'spowertoawarddamagesinalibelactionbroughtbyapublicofficial
againstcriticsofhisofficialconduct.

RespondentL.B.SullivanisoneofthethreeelectedCommissionersoftheCityofMontgomery,Alabama.
Hetestifiedthathewas

CommissionerofPublicAffairs,andthedutiesaresupervisionofthePoliceDepartment,FireDepartment,
DepartmentofCemeteryandDepartmentofScales.

Hebroughtthiscivillibelactionagainstthefourindividualpetitioners,whoareNegroesandAlabama
clergymen,andagainstpetitionertheNewYorkTimesCompany,aNewYorkcorporationwhichpublishes
theNewYorkTimes,adailynewspaper.AjuryintheCircuitCourtofMontgomeryCountyawardedhim
damagesof$500,000,thefullamountclaimed,againstallthepetitioners,andtheSupremeCourtof
Alabamaaffirmed.273Ala.656,144So.2d25.

Respondent'scomplaintallegedthathehadbeenlibeledbystatementsinafullpageadvertisementthat
wascarriedintheNewYorkTimesonMarch29,1960.[n1]Entitled"HeedTheirRisingVoices,"the
advertisementbeganbystatingthat,

Asthewholeworldknowsbynow,thousandsofSouthernNegrostudentsareengagedinwidespread
nonviolentdemonstrationsinpositiveaffirmationoftherighttoliveinhumandignityasguaranteedbythe
U.S.ConstitutionandtheBillofRights.

Itwentontochargethat,

intheireffortstoupholdtheseguarantees,theyarebeingmetbyanunprecedentedwaveofterrorbythose
whowoulddenyandnegatethatdocumentwhichthewholeworldlooksuponassettingthepatternfor
modernfreedom....

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Succeeding[p257]paragraphspurportedtoillustratethe"waveofterror"bydescribingcertainalleged
events.Thetextconcludedwithanappealforfundsforthreepurposes:supportofthestudentmovement,
"thestrugglefortherighttovote,"andthelegaldefenseofDr.MartinLutherKing,Jr.,leaderofthe
movement,againstaperjuryindictmentthenpendinginMontgomery.

Thetextappearedoverthenamesof64persons,manywidelyknownfortheiractivitiesinpublicaffairs,
religion,tradeunions,andtheperformingarts.Belowthesenames,andunderalinereading"Weinthe
southwhoarestrugglingdailyfordignityandfreedomwarmlyendorsethisappeal,"appearedthenamesof
thefourindividualpetitionersandof16otherpersons,allbuttwoofwhomwereidentifiedasclergymenin
variousSoutherncities.Theadvertisementwassignedatthebottomofthepagebythe"Committeeto
DefendMartinLutherKingandtheStruggleforFreedomintheSouth,"andtheofficersoftheCommittee
werelisted.

Ofthe10paragraphsoftextintheadvertisement,thethirdandaportionofthesixthwerethebasisof
respondent'sclaimoflibel.Theyreadasfollows:

Thirdparagraph:

InMontgomery,Alabama,afterstudentssang"MyCountry,'TisofThee"ontheStateCapitolsteps,their
leaderswereexpelledfromschool,andtruckloadsofpolicearmedwithshotgunsandteargasringedthe
AlabamaStateCollegeCampus.Whentheentirestudentbodyprotestedtostateauthoritiesbyrefusingto
reregister,theirdininghallwaspadlockedinanattempttostarvethemintosubmission.

Sixthparagraph:

Againandagain,theSouthernviolatorshaveansweredDr.King'speacefulprotestswithintimidationand
violence.Theyhavebombedhishome,almostkillinghiswifeandchild.Theyhave[p258]assaultedhis
person.Theyhavearrestedhimseventimesfor"speeding,""loitering"andsimilar"offenses."Andnow
theyhavechargedhimwith"perjury"afelonyunderwhichtheycouldimprisonhimfortenyears....

Althoughneitherofthesestatementsmentionsrespondentbyname,hecontendedthattheword"police"in
thethirdparagraphreferredtohimastheMontgomeryCommissionerwhosupervisedthePolice
Department,sothathewasbeingaccusedof"ringing"thecampuswithpolice.Hefurtherclaimedthatthe
paragraphwouldbereadasimputingtothepolice,andhencetohim,thepadlockingofthedininghallin
ordertostarvethestudentsintosubmission.[n2]Astothesixthparagraph,hecontendedthat,sincearrests
areordinarilymadebythepolice,thestatement"Theyhavearrested[Dr.King]seventimes"wouldberead
asreferringtohimhefurthercontendedthatthe"They"whodidthearrestingwouldbeequatedwiththe
"They"whocommittedtheotherdescribedactsandwiththe"Southernviolators."Thus,heargued,the
paragraphwouldbereadasaccusingtheMontgomerypolice,andhencehim,ofansweringDr.King's
protestswith"intimidationandviolence,"bombinghishome,assaultinghisperson,andcharginghimwith
perjury.RespondentandsixotherMontgomeryresidentstestifiedthattheyreadsomeorallofthe
statementsasreferringtohiminhiscapacityasCommissioner.

Itisuncontrovertedthatsomeofthestatementscontainedinthetwoparagraphswerenotaccurate
descriptionsofeventswhichoccurredinMontgomery.AlthoughNegrostudentsstagedademonstrationon
theStateCapitolsteps,theysangtheNationalAnthemandnot"My[p259]Country,'TisofThee."Although
ninestudentswereexpelledbytheStateBoardofEducation,thiswasnotforleadingthedemonstrationat
theCapitol,butfordemandingserviceatalunchcounterintheMontgomeryCountyCourthouseonanother
day.Nottheentirestudentbody,butmostofit,hadprotestedtheexpulsion,notbyrefusingtoregister,but
byboycottingclassesonasingledayvirtuallyallthestudentsdidregisterfortheensuingsemester.The
campusdininghallwasnotpadlockedonanyoccasion,andtheonlystudentswhomayhavebeenbarred
fromeatingtherewerethefewwhohadneithersignedapreregistrationapplicationnorrequested
temporarymealtickets.Althoughthepoliceweredeployednearthecampusinlargenumbersonthree
occasions,theydidnotatanytime"ring"thecampus,andtheywerenotcalledtothecampusinconnection
withthedemonstrationontheStateCapitolsteps,asthethirdparagraphimplied.Dr.Kinghadnotbeen
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arrestedseventimes,butonlyfour,andalthoughheclaimedtohavebeenassaultedsomeyearsearlierin
connectionwithhisarrestforloiteringoutsideacourtroom,oneoftheofficerswhomadethearrestdenied
thattherewassuchanassault.

Onthepremisethatthechargesinthesixthparagraphcouldbereadasreferringtohim,respondentwas
allowedtoprovethathehadnotparticipatedintheeventsdescribed.AlthoughDr.King'shomehad,infact,
beenbombedtwicewhenhiswifeandchildwerethere,bothoftheseoccasionsantedatedrespondent's
tenureasCommissioner,andthepolicewerenotonlynotimplicatedinthebombings,buthadmadeevery
efforttoapprehendthosewhowere.ThreeofDr.King'sfourarreststookplacebeforerespondentbecame
Commissioner.AlthoughDr.Kinghad,infact,beenindicted(hewassubsequentlyacquitted)ontwocounts
ofperjury,eachofwhichcarriedapossiblefiveyearsentence,respondenthadnothingtodowithprocuring
theindictment.[p260]

Respondentmadenoefforttoprovethathesufferedactualpecuniarylossasaresultoftheallegedlibel.
[n3]Oneofhiswitnesses,aformeremployer,testifiedthat,ifhehadbelievedthestatements,hedoubted

whetherhe"wouldwanttobeassociatedwithanybodywhowouldbeapartytosuchthingsthatarestated
inthatad,"andthathewouldnotreemployrespondentifhebelieved"thatheallowedthePolice
Departmenttodothethingsthatthepapersayhedid."Butneitherthiswitnessnoranyoftheothers
testifiedthathehadactuallybelievedthestatementsintheirsupposedreferencetorespondent.Thecostof
theadvertisementwasapproximately$4800,anditwaspublishedbytheTimesuponanorderfromaNew
YorkadvertisingagencyactingforthesignatoryCommittee.Theagencysubmittedtheadvertisementwitha
letterfromA.PhilipRandolph,ChairmanoftheCommittee,certifyingthatthepersonswhosenames
appearedontheadvertisementhadgiventheirpermission.Mr.RandolphwasknowntotheTimes'
AdvertisingAcceptabilityDepartmentasaresponsibleperson,and,inacceptingtheletterassufficientproof
ofauthorization,itfolloweditsestablishedpractice.Therewastestimonythatthecopyoftheadvertisement
whichaccompaniedtheletterlistedonlythe64namesappearingunderthetext,andthatthestatement,
"Weinthesouth...warmlyendorsethisappeal,"andthelistofnamesthereunder,whichincludedthoseof
theindividualpetitioners,weresubsequentlyaddedwhenthefirstproofoftheadvertisementwasreceived.
Eachoftheindividualpetitionerstestifiedthathehadnotauthorizedtheuseofhisname,andthathehad
beenunawareofitsuseuntilreceiptofrespondent'sdemandforaretraction.Themanagerofthe
AdvertisingAcceptability[p261]Departmenttestifiedthathehadapprovedtheadvertisementforpublication
becauseheknewnothingtocausehimtobelievethatanythinginitwasfalse,andbecauseitborethe
endorsementof"anumberofpeoplewhoarewellknownandwhosereputation"he"hadnoreasonto
question."NeitherhenoranyoneelseattheTimesmadeanefforttoconfirmtheaccuracyofthe
advertisement,eitherbycheckingitagainstrecentTimesnewsstoriesrelatingtosomeofthedescribed
eventsorbyanyothermeans.

Alabamalawdeniesapublicofficerrecoveryofpunitivedamagesinalibelactionbroughtonaccountofa
publicationconcerninghisofficialconductunlesshefirstmakesawrittendemandforapublicretractionand
thedefendantfailsorrefusestocomply.AlabamaCode,Tit.7,914.Respondentservedsuchademand
uponeachofthepetitioners.Noneoftheindividualpetitionersrespondedtothedemand,primarilybecause
eachtookthepositionthathehadnotauthorizedtheuseofhisnameontheadvertisement,andtherefore
hadnotpublishedthestatementsthatrespondentallegedhadlibeledhim.TheTimesdidnotpublisha
retractioninresponsetothedemand,butwroterespondentaletterstating,amongotherthings,that"we..
.aresomewhatpuzzledastohowyouthinkthestatementsinanywayreflectonyou,"and"youmight,if
youdesire,letusknowinwhatrespectyouclaimthatthestatementsintheadvertisementreflectonyou."
Respondentfiledthissuitafewdayslaterwithoutansweringtheletter.TheTimesdid,however,
subsequentlypublisharetractionoftheadvertisementuponthedemandofGovernorJohnPattersonof
Alabama,whoassertedthatthepublicationchargedhimwith

gravemisconductand...improperactionsandomissionsasGovernorofAlabamaandExOfficio
ChairmanoftheStateBoardofEducationofAlabama.

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WhenaskedtoexplainwhytherehadbeenaretractionfortheGovernorbutnotforrespondent,the[p262]
SecretaryoftheTimestestified:

Wedidthatbecausewedidn'twantanythingthatwaspublishedbyTheTimestobeareflectiononthe
StateofAlabama,andtheGovernorwas,asfaraswecouldsee,theembodimentoftheStateofAlabama
andtheproperrepresentativeoftheState,and,furthermore,wehadbythattimelearnedmoreofthe
actualfactswhichtheandpurportedtoreciteand,finally,theaddidrefertotheactionoftheState
authoritiesandtheBoardofEducation,presumablyofwhichtheGovernoristheexofficiochairman....

Ontheotherhand,hetestifiedthathedidnotthinkthat"anyofthelanguageintherereferredtoMr.
Sullivan."

Thetrialjudgesubmittedthecasetothejuryunderinstructionsthatthestatementsintheadvertisement
were"libelousperse,"andwerenotprivileged,sothatpetitionersmightbeheldliableifthejuryfoundthat
theyhadpublishedtheadvertisementandthatthestatementsweremade"ofandconcerning"respondent.
Thejurywasinstructedthat,becausethestatementswerelibelousperse,"thelaw...implieslegalinjury
fromthebarefactofpublicationitself,""falsityandmalicearepresumed,""generaldamagesneednotbe
allegedorproved,butarepresumed,"and"punitivedamagesmaybeawardedbythejuryeventhoughthe
amountofactualdamagesisneitherfoundnorshown."Anawardofpunitivedamagesasdistinguished
from"general"damages,whicharecompensatoryinnatureapparentlyrequiresproofofactualmalice
underAlabamalaw,andthejudgechargedthat

merenegligenceorcarelessnessisnotevidenceofactualmaliceormaliceinfact,anddoesnotjustifyan
awardofexemplaryorpunitivedamages.

Herefusedtocharge,however,thatthejurymustbe"convinced"ofmalice,inthesenseof"actualintent"to
harmor"grossnegligenceandrecklessness,"tomakesuchanaward,andhealsorefusedtorequirethata
verdictforrespondentdifferentiatebetweencompensatoryandpunitivedamages.Thejudgerejected
petitioners'contention[p263]thathisrulingsabridgedthefreedomsofspeechandofthepressthatare
guaranteedbytheFirstandFourteenthAmendments.

Inaffirmingthejudgment,theSupremeCourtofAlabamasustainedthetrialjudge'srulingsandinstructions
inallrespects.273Ala.656,144So.2d25.Itheldthat,

wherethewordspublishedtendtoinjureapersonlibeledbytheminhisreputation,profession,tradeor
business,orchargehimwithanindictableoffense,ortendtobringtheindividualintopubliccontempt,

theyare"libelousperse"that"themattercomplainedofis,undertheabovedoctrine,libelousperse,ifit
waspublishedofandconcerningtheplaintiff",andthatitwasactionablewithout"proofofpecuniaryinjury..
..suchinjurybeingimplied."Id.at673,676,144So.2dat37,41.Itapprovedthetrialcourt'srulingthatthe
jurycouldfindthestatementstohavebeenmade"ofandconcerning"respondent,stating:

Wethinkitcommonknowledgethattheaveragepersonknowsthatmunicipalagents,suchaspoliceand
firemen,andothers,areunderthecontrolanddirectionofthecitygoverningbody,and,moreparticularly,
underthedirectionandcontrolofasinglecommissioner.Inmeasuringtheperformanceordeficienciesof
suchgroups,praiseorcriticismisusuallyattachedtotheofficialincompletecontrolofthebody.

Id.at674675,144So.2dat39.Insustainingthetrialcourt'sdeterminationthattheverdictwasnot
excessive,thecourtsaidthatmalicecouldbeinferredfromtheTimes'"irresponsibility"inprintingthe
advertisementwhile

theTimes,initsownfiles,hadarticlesalreadypublishedwhichwouldhavedemonstratedthefalsityofthe
allegationsintheadvertisement

fromtheTimes'failuretoretractforrespondentwhileretractingfortheGovernor,whereasthefalsityof
someoftheallegationswasthenknowntotheTimesand"themattercontainedintheadvertisementwas
equallyfalseastobothparties",andfromthetestimonyoftheTimes'Secretarythat,[p264]apartfromthe
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statementthatthedininghallwaspadlocked,hethoughtthetwoparagraphswere"substantiallycorrect."Id.
at686687,144So.2dat5051.Thecourtreaffirmedastatementinanearlieropinionthat"Thereisno
legalmeasureofdamagesincasesofthischaracter."Id.at686,144So.2dat50.Itrejectedpetitioners'
constitutionalcontentionswiththebriefstatementsthat"TheFirstAmendmentoftheU.S.Constitutiondoes
notprotectlibelouspublications,"and"TheFourteenthAmendmentisdirectedagainstStateaction,andnot
privateaction."Id.at676,144So.2dat40.

Becauseoftheimportanceoftheconstitutionalissuesinvolved,wegrantedtheseparatepetitionsfor
certiorarioftheindividualpetitionersandoftheTimes.371U.S.946
(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/371/946/).Wereversethejudgment.Weholdthattheruleof
lawappliedbytheAlabamacourtsisconstitutionallydeficientforfailuretoprovidethesafeguardsfor
freedomofspeechandofthepressthatarerequiredbytheFirstandFourteenthAmendmentsinalibel
actionbroughtbyapublicofficialagainstcriticsofhisofficialconduct.[n4]We[p265]furtherholdthat,under
thepropersafeguards,theevidencepresentedinthiscaseisconstitutionallyinsufficienttosupportthe
judgmentforrespondent.

I.
WemaydisposeattheoutsetoftwogroundsassertedtoinsulatethejudgmentoftheAlabamacourtsfrom
constitutionalscrutiny.ThefirstisthepropositionreliedonbytheStateSupremeCourtthat"The
FourteenthAmendmentisdirectedagainstStateaction,andnotprivateaction."Thatpropositionhasno
applicationtothiscase.Althoughthisisacivillawsuitbetweenprivateparties,theAlabamacourtshave
appliedastateruleoflawwhichpetitionersclaimtoimposeinvalidrestrictionsontheirconstitutional
freedomsofspeechandpress.Itmattersnotthatthatlawhasbeenappliedinacivilactionandthatitis
commonlawonly,thoughsupplementedbystatute.See,e.g.,AlabamaCode,Tit.7,908917.Thetest
isnottheforminwhichstatepowerhasbeenappliedbut,whatevertheform,whethersuchpowerhas,in
fact,beenexercised.SeeExparteVirginia,100U.S.339
(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/100/339/),346347AmericanFederationofLaborv.Swing.
312U.S.321(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/312/321/).

Thesecondcontentionisthattheconstitutionalguaranteesoffreedomofspeechandofthepressare
inapplicablehere,atleastsofarastheTimesisconcerned,becausetheallegedlylibelousstatementswere
publishedaspartofapaid,"commercial"advertisement.TheargumentreliesonValentinev.Chrestensen,
316U.S.52(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/316/52/),wheretheCourtheldthatacity
ordinanceforbiddingstreetdistributionofcommercialandbusinessadvertisingmatterdidnotabridgethe
FirstAmendmentfreedoms,evenasappliedtoahandbillhavingacommercialmessageononesidebuta
protestagainstcertainofficialaction,ontheother.Therelianceiswhollymisplaced.TheCourtin
Chrestensenreaffirmedtheconstitutionalprotectionfor"thefreedomofcommunicating[p266]information
anddisseminatingopinion"itsholdingwasbaseduponthefactualconclusionsthatthehandbillwas"purely
commercialadvertising"andthattheprotestagainstofficialactionhadbeenaddedonlytoevadethe
ordinance.

Thepublicationherewasnota"commercial"advertisementinthesenseinwhichthewordwasusedin
Chrestensen.Itcommunicatedinformation,expressedopinion,recitedgrievances,protestedclaimed
abuses,andsoughtfinancialsupportonbehalfofamovementwhoseexistenceandobjectivesarematters
ofthehighestpublicinterestandconcern.SeeNAACPv.Button,371U.S.415
(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/371/415/),435.ThattheTimeswaspaidforpublishingthe
advertisementisasimmaterialinthisconnectionasisthefactthatnewspapersandbooksaresold.Smith
v.California,361U.S.147(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/361/147/),150cf.BantamBooks,
Inc.,v.Sullivan,372U.S.58(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/372/58/),64,n.6.Anyother
conclusionwoulddiscouragenewspapersfromcarrying"editorialadvertisements"ofthistype,andsomight
shutoffanimportantoutletforthepromulgationofinformationandideasbypersonswhodonotthemselves
haveaccesstopublishingfacilitieswhowishtoexercisetheirfreedomofspeecheventhoughtheyare
notmembersofthepress.Cf.Lovellv.Griffin,303U.S.444
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(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/303/444/),452Schneiderv.State,308U.S.147
(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/308/147/),164.TheeffectwouldbetoshackletheFirst
Amendmentinitsattempttosecure"thewidestpossibledisseminationofinformationfromdiverseand
antagonisticsources."AssociatedPressv.UnitedStates,326U.S.1
(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/326/1/),20.Toavoidplacingsuchahandicapuponthe
freedomsofexpression,weholdthat,iftheallegedlylibelousstatementswouldotherwisebeconstitutionally
protectedfromthepresentjudgment,theydonotforfeitthatprotectionbecausetheywerepublishedinthe
formofapaidadvertisement.[n5][p267]

II

UnderAlabamalaw,asappliedinthiscase,apublicationis"libelousperse"ifthewords"tendtoinjurea
person...inhisreputation"orto"bring[him]intopubliccontempt"thetrialcourtstatedthatthestandard
wasmetifthewordsaresuchasto"injurehiminhispublicoffice,orimputemisconducttohiminhisoffice,
orwantofofficialintegrity,orwantoffidelitytoapublictrust...."Thejurymustfindthatthewordswere
published"ofandconcerning"theplaintiff,but,wheretheplaintiffisapublicofficial,hisplaceinthe
governmentalhierarchyissufficientevidencetosupportafindingthathisreputationhasbeenaffectedby
statementsthatreflectupontheagencyofwhichheisincharge.Once"libelperse"hasbeenestablished,
thedefendanthasnodefenseastostatedfactsunlesshecanpersuadethejurythattheyweretrueinall
theirparticulars.AlabamaRideCo.v.Vance,235Ala.263,178So.438(1938)JohnsonPublishingCo.v.
Davis,271Ala.474,494495,124So.2d441,457458(1960).Hisprivilegeof"faircomment"for
expressionsofopiniondependsonthetruthofthefactsuponwhichthecommentisbased.Parsonsv.Age
HeraldPublishingCo.,181Ala.439,450,61So.345,350(1913).Unlesshecandischargetheburdenof
provingtruth,generaldamagesarepresumed,andmaybeawardedwithoutproofofpecuniaryinjury.A
showingofactualmaliceisapparentlyaprerequisitetorecoveryofpunitivedamages,andthedefendant
may,inanyevent,forestallapunitiveawardbyaretractionmeetingthestatutoryrequirements.Good
motivesandbeliefintruthdonotnegateaninferenceofmalice,butarerelevantonlyinmitigationof
punitivedamagesifthejurychoosestoaccordthemweight.JohnsonPublishingCo.v.Davis,supra,271
Ala.,at495,124So.2dat458.[p268]

Thequestionbeforeusiswhetherthisruleofliability,asappliedtoanactionbroughtbyapublicofficial
againstcriticsofhisofficialconduct,abridgesthefreedomofspeechandofthepressthatisguaranteedby
theFirstandFourteenthAmendments.

Respondentreliesheavily,asdidtheAlabamacourts,onstatementsofthisCourttotheeffectthatthe
Constitutiondoesnotprotectlibelouspublications.[n6]Thosestatementsdonotforecloseourinquiryhere.
Noneofthecasessustainedtheuseoflibellawstoimposesanctionsuponexpressioncriticaloftheofficial
conductofpublicofficials.ThedictuminPennekampv.Florida,328U.S.331
(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/328/331/),348349,that"whenthestatementsamountto
defamation,ajudgehassuchremedyindamagesforlibelasdootherpublicservants,"impliednoviewas
towhatremedymightconstitutionallybeaffordedtopublicofficials.InBeauharnaisv.Illinois,343U.S.250
(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/343/250/),theCourtsustainedanIllinoiscriminallibelstatute
asappliedtoapublicationheldtobebothdefamatoryofaracialgroupand"liabletocauseviolenceand
disorder."ButtheCourtwascarefultonotethatit"retainsandexercisesauthoritytonullifyactionwhich
encroachesonfreedomofutteranceundertheguiseofpunishinglibel"for"publicmenare,asitwere,
publicproperty,"and"discussioncannotbedenied,andtheright,aswellastheduty,ofcriticismmustnot
bestifled."Id.at263264,andn.18.Intheonlypreviouscasethatdidpresentthequestionofconstitutional
limitationsuponthepowertoawarddamagesforlibelofapublicofficial,theCourtwasequallydividedand
thequestionwasnotdecided.SchenectadyUnionPub.Co.v.Sweeney,316U.S.642
(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/316/642/).[p269]Indecidingthequestionnow,weare
compelledbyneitherprecedentnorpolicytogiveanymoreweighttotheepithet"libel"thanwehaveto
other"merelabels"ofstatelaw.NAACPv.Button,371U.S.415
(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/371/415/),429.Likeinsurrection,[n7]contempt,[n8]advocacy
[n9] [n10] [n11] [n12]
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ofunlawfulacts,[n9]breachofthepeace,[n10]obscenity,[n11]solicitationoflegalbusiness,[n12]andthe
variousotherformulaefortherepressionofexpressionthathavebeenchallengedinthisCourt,libelcan
claimnotalismanicimmunityfromconstitutionallimitations.Itmustbemeasuredbystandardsthatsatisfy
theFirstAmendment.

ThegeneralpropositionthatfreedomofexpressionuponpublicquestionsissecuredbytheFirst
Amendmenthaslongbeensettledbyourdecisions.Theconstitutionalsafeguard,wehavesaid,"was
fashionedtoassureunfetteredinterchangeofideasforthebringingaboutofpoliticalandsocialchanges
desiredbythepeople."Rothv.UnitedStates,354U.S.476
(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/354/476/),484.

Themaintenanceoftheopportunityforfreepoliticaldiscussiontotheendthatgovernmentmaybe
responsivetothewillofthepeopleandthatchangesmaybeobtainedbylawfulmeans,anopportunity
essentialtothesecurityoftheRepublic,isafundamentalprincipleofourconstitutionalsystem.

Strombergv.California,283U.S.359(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/283/359/),369."[I]tis
aprizedAmericanprivilegetospeakone'smind,althoughnotalwayswithperfectgoodtaste,onallpublic
institutions,"Bridgesv.California,314U.S.252(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/314/252/),
270,andthisopportunityistobeaffordedfor"vigorousadvocacy"nolessthan"abstractdiscussion."
NAACPv.Button,371U.S.415(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/371/415/),429.[p270]The
FirstAmendment,saidJudgeLearnedHand,

presupposesthatrightconclusionsaremorelikelytobegatheredoutofamultitudeoftonguesthan
throughanykindofauthoritativeselection.Tomany,thisis,andalwayswillbe,folly,butwehavestaked
uponitourall.

UnitedStatesv.AssociatedPress,52F.Supp.362,372(D.C.S.D.N.Y.1943).Mr.JusticeBrandeis,inhis
concurringopinioninWhitneyv.California,274U.S.357
(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/274/357/),375376,gavetheprincipleitsclassicformulation:

Thosewhowonourindependencebelieved...thatpublicdiscussionisapoliticalduty,andthatthisshould
beafundamentalprincipleoftheAmericangovernment.Theyrecognizedtheriskstowhichallhuman
institutionsaresubject.Buttheyknewthatordercannotbesecuredmerelythroughfearofpunishmentfor
itsinfractionthatitishazardoustodiscouragethought,hopeandimaginationthatfearbreedsrepression
thatrepressionbreedshatethathatemenacesstablegovernmentthatthepathofsafetyliesinthe
opportunitytodiscussfreelysupposedgrievancesandproposedremedies,andthatthefittingremedyfor
evilcounselsisgoodones.Believinginthepowerofreasonasappliedthroughpublicdiscussion,they
eschewedsilencecoercedbylawtheargumentofforceinitsworstform.Recognizingtheoccasional
tyranniesofgoverningmajorities,theyamendedtheConstitutionsothatfreespeechandassemblyshould
beguaranteed.

Thus,weconsiderthiscaseagainstthebackgroundofaprofoundnationalcommitmenttotheprinciplethat
debateonpublicissuesshouldbeuninhibited,robust,andwideopen,andthatitmaywellinclude
vehement,caustic,andsometimesunpleasantlysharpattacksongovernmentandpublicofficials.See
Terminiellov.Chicago,337U.S.1(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/337/1/),4DeJongev.
Oregon,299U.S.353(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/299/353/),[p271]365.Thepresent
advertisement,asanexpressionofgrievanceandprotestononeofthemajorpublicissuesofourtime,
wouldseemclearlytoqualifyfortheconstitutionalprotection.Thequestioniswhetheritforfeitsthat
protectionbythefalsityofsomeofitsfactualstatementsandbyitsallegeddefamationofrespondent.

AuthoritativeinterpretationsoftheFirstAmendmentguaranteeshaveconsistentlyrefusedtorecognizean
exceptionforanytestoftruthwhetheradministeredbyjudges,juries,oradministrativeofficialsand
especiallyonethatputstheburdenofprovingtruthonthespeaker.Cf.Speiserv.Randall,357U.S.513
(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/357/513/),525526.Theconstitutionalprotectiondoesnot
turnupon"thetruth,popularity,orsocialutilityoftheideasandbeliefswhichareoffered."NAACPv.Button,
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371U.S.415(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/371/415/),445.AsMadisonsaid,"Some
degreeofabuseisinseparablefromtheproperuseofeverything,andinnoinstanceisthismoretruethan
inthatofthepress."4Elliot'sDebatesontheFederalConstitution(1876),p.571.InCantwellv.
Connecticut,310U.S.296(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/310/296/),310,theCourt
declared:

Intherealmofreligiousfaith,andinthatofpoliticalbelief,sharpdifferencesarise.Inbothfields,thetenets
ofonemanmayseemtherankesterrortohisneighbor.Topersuadeotherstohisownpointofview,the
pleader,asweknow,attimesresortstoexaggeration,tovilificationofmenwhohavebeen,orare,
prominentinchurchorstate,andeventofalsestatement.Butthepeopleofthisnationhaveordained,in
thelightofhistory,that,inspiteoftheprobabilityofexcessesandabuses,theselibertiesare,inthelong
view,essentialtoenlightenedopinionandrightconductonthepartofthecitizensofademocracy.

Thaterroneousstatementisinevitableinfreedebate,andthatitmustbeprotectedifthefreedomsof
expression[p272]aretohavethe"breathingspace"thatthey"need...tosurvive,"NAACPv.Button,371
U.S.415(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/371/415/),433,wasalsorecognizedbytheCourt
ofAppealsfortheDistrictofColumbiaCircuitinSweeneyv.Patterson,76U.S.App.D.C.23,24,128F.2d
457,458(1942),cert.denied,317U.S.678(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/317/678/).
JudgeEdgertonspokeforaunanimouscourtwhichaffirmedthedismissalofaCongressman'slibelsuit
baseduponanewspaperarticlecharginghimwithantiSemitisminopposingajudicialappointment.He
said:

Caseswhichimposeliabilityforerroneousreportsofthepoliticalconductofofficialsreflecttheobsolete
doctrinethatthegovernedmustnotcriticizetheirgovernors....Theinterestofthepublichereoutweighs
theinterestofappellantoranyotherindividual.Theprotectionofthepublicrequiresnotmerelydiscussion,
butinformation.Politicalconductandviewswhichsomerespectablepeopleapprove,andotherscondemn,
areconstantlyimputedtoCongressmen.Errorsoffact,particularlyinregardtoaman'smentalstatesand
processes,areinevitable....Whateverisaddedtothefieldoflibelistakenfromthefieldoffreedebate.
[n13]

Injurytoofficialreputationaffordsnomorewarrantforrepressingspeechthatwouldotherwisebefreethan
doesfactualerror.Wherejudicialofficersareinvolved,thisCourthasheldthatconcernforthedignityand
[p273]reputationofthecourtsdoesnotjustifythepunishmentascriminalcontemptofcriticismofthejudge
orhisdecision.Bridgesv.California,314U.S.252(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/314/252/).
Thisistrueeventhoughtheutterancecontains"halftruths"and"misinformation."Pennekampv.Florida,
328U.S.331(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/328/331/),342,343,n.5,345.Such
repressioncanbejustified,ifatall,onlybyaclearandpresentdangeroftheobstructionofjustice.Seealso
Craigv.Harney,331U.S.367(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/331/367/)Woodv.Georgia,
370U.S.375(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/370/375/).Ifjudgesaretobetreatedas"men
offortitude,abletothriveinahardyclimate,"Craigv.Harney,supra,331U.S.at376,surelythesamemust
betrueofothergovernmentofficials,suchaselectedcitycommissioners.[n14]Criticismoftheirofficial
conductdoesnotloseitsconstitutionalprotectionmerelybecauseitiseffectivecriticism,andhence
diminishestheirofficialreputations.

Ifneitherfactualerrornordefamatorycontentsufficestoremovetheconstitutionalshieldfromcriticismof
officialconduct,thecombinationofthetwoelementsisnolessinadequate.Thisisthelessontobedrawn
fromthegreatcontroversyovertheSeditionActof1798,1Stat.596,whichfirstcrystallizedanational
awarenessofthecentralmeaningoftheFirstAmendment.SeeLevy,LegacyofSuppression(1960),at258
etseq.Smith,Freedom'sFetters(1956),at426,431,andpassim.Thatstatutemadeitacrime,punishable
bya$5,000fineandfiveyearsinprison,

ifanypersonshallwrite,print,utterorpublish...anyfalse,scandalousandmalicious[p274]writingor
writingsagainstthegovernmentoftheUnitedStates,oreitherhouseoftheCongress...orthePresident.
..withintenttodefame...ortobringthem,oreitherofthem,intocontemptordisreputeortoexcite
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againstthem,oreitheroranyofthem,thehatredofthegoodpeopleoftheUnitedStates.

TheActallowedthedefendantthedefenseoftruth,andprovidedthatthejuryweretobejudgesbothofthe
lawandthefacts.Despitethesequalifications,theActwasvigorouslycondemnedasunconstitutionalinan
attackjoinedinbyJeffersonandMadison.InthefamousVirginiaResolutionsof1798,theGeneral
AssemblyofVirginiaresolvedthatit

dothparticularlyprotestagainstthepalpableandalarminginfractionsoftheConstitutioninthetwolate
casesofthe"AlienandSeditionActs,"passedatthelastsessionofCongress....[TheSeditionAct]
exercises...apowernotdelegatedbytheConstitution,but,onthecontrary,expresslyandpositively
forbiddenbyoneoftheamendmentstheretoapowerwhich,morethananyother,oughttoproduce
universalalarmbecauseitisleveledagainsttherightoffreelyexaminingpubliccharactersandmeasures,
andoffreecommunicationamongthepeoplethereon,whichhaseverbeenjustlydeemedtheonly
effectualguardianofeveryotherright.

4Elliot'sDebates,supra,pp.553554.MadisonpreparedtheReportinsupportoftheprotest.Hispremise
wasthattheConstitutioncreatedaformofgovernmentunderwhich"Thepeople,notthegovernment,
possesstheabsolutesovereignty."Thestructureofthegovernmentdispersedpowerinreflectionofthe
people'sdistrustofconcentratedpower,andofpoweritselfatalllevels.Thisformofgovernmentwas
"altogetherdifferent"fromtheBritishform,underwhichtheCrownwassovereignandthepeoplewere
subjects."Is[p275]itnotnaturalandnecessary,undersuchdifferentcircumstances,"heasked,"thata
differentdegreeoffreedomintheuseofthepressshouldbecontemplated?"Id.,pp.569570.Earlier,ina
debateintheHouseofRepresentatives,Madisonhadsaid:

IfweadverttothenatureofRepublicanGovernment,weshallfindthatthecensorialpowerisinthepeople
overtheGovernment,andnotintheGovernmentoverthepeople.

4AnnalsofCongress,p.934(1794).Oftheexerciseofthatpowerbythepress,hisReportsaid:

Ineverystate,probably,intheUnion,thepresshasexertedafreedomincanvassingthemeritsand
measuresofpublicmen,ofeverydescription,whichhasnotbeenconfinedtothestrictlimitsofthecommon
law.Onthisfooting,thefreedomofthepresshasstoodonthisfoundationityetstands....

4Elliot'sDebates,supra,p.570.Therightoffreepublicdiscussionofthestewardshipofpublicofficialswas
thus,inMadison'sview,afundamentalprincipleoftheAmericanformofgovernment.[n15][p276]

AlthoughtheSeditionActwasnevertestedinthisCourt,[n16]theattackuponitsvalidityhascarriedtheday
inthecourtofhistory.FinesleviedinitsprosecutionwererepaidbyActofCongressonthegroundthatit
wasunconstitutional.See,e.g.,ActofJuly4,1840,c.45,6Stat.802,accompaniedbyH.R.Rep.No.86,
26thCong.,1stSess.(1840).Calhoun,reportingtotheSenateonFebruary4,1836,assumedthatits
invaliditywasamatter"whichnoonenowdoubts."ReportwithSenatebillNo.122,24thCong.,1stSess.,p.
3.Jefferson,asPresident,pardonedthosewhohadbeenconvictedandsentencedundertheActand
remittedtheirfines,stating:

IdischargedeverypersonunderpunishmentorprosecutionundertheseditionlawbecauseIconsidered,
andnowconsider,thatlawtobeanullity,asabsoluteandaspalpableasifCongresshadorderedustofall
downandworshipagoldenimage.

LettertoMrs.Adams,July22,1804,4Jefferson'sWorks(Washingtoned.),pp.555,556.Theinvalidityof
theActhasalsobeenassumedbyJusticesofthisCourt.SeeHolmes,J.,dissentingandjoinedbyBrandeis,
J.,inAbramsv.UnitedStates,250U.S.616(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/250/616/),630
Jackson,J.,dissentinginBeauharnaisv.Illinois,343U.S.250
(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/343/250/),288289Douglas,TheRightofthePeople
(1958),p.47.SeealsoCooley,ConstitutionalLimitations(8thed.,Carrington,1927),pp.899900Chafee,

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FreeSpeechintheUnitedStates(1942),pp.2728.TheseviewsreflectabroadconsensusthattheAct,
becauseoftherestraintitimposeduponcriticismofgovernmentandpublicofficials,wasinconsistentwith
theFirstAmendment.

Thereisnoforceinrespondent'sargumentthattheconstitutionallimitationsimplicitinthehistoryofthe
SeditionActapplyonlytoCongress,andnottotheStates.ItistruethattheFirstAmendmentwasoriginally
addressedonlytoactionbytheFederalGovernment,and[p277]thatJefferson,forone,whiledenyingthe
powerofCongress"tocontroulthefreedomofthepress,"recognizedsuchapowerintheStates.Seethe
1804LettertoAbigailAdamsquotedinDennisv.UnitedStates,341U.S.494
(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/341/494/),522,n.4(concurringopinion).Butthisdistinction
waseliminatedwiththeadoptionoftheFourteenthAmendmentandtheapplicationtotheStatesoftheFirst
Amendment'srestrictions.See,e.g.,Gitlowv.NewYork,268U.S.652
(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/268/652/),666Schneiderv.State,308U.S.147
(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/308/147/),160Bridgesv.California,314U.S.252
(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/314/252/),268Edwardsv.SouthCarolina,372U.S.229
(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/372/229/),235.

WhataStatemaynotconstitutionallybringaboutbymeansofacriminalstatuteislikewisebeyondthe
reachofitscivillawoflibel.[n17]Thefearofdamageawardsunderarulesuchasthatinvokedbythe
Alabamacourtsheremaybemarkedlymoreinhibitingthanthefearofprosecutionunderacriminalstatute.
SeeCityofChicagov.TribuneCo.,307Ill.595,607,139N.E.86,90(1923).Alabama,forexample,hasa
criminallibellawwhichsubjectstoprosecution"anypersonwhospeaks,writes,orprintsofandconcerning
anotheranyaccusationfalselyandmaliciouslyimportingthecommissionbysuchpersonofafelony,orany
otherindictableoffenseinvolvingmoralturpitude,"andwhichallowsaspunishmentuponconvictionafine
notexceeding$500andaprisonsentenceofsixmonths.AlabamaCode,Tit.14,350.Presumably,a
personchargedwithviolationofthisstatuteenjoysordinarycriminallawsafeguardssuchasthe
requirementsofanindictmentandofproofbeyondareasonabledoubt.Thesesafeguardsarenotavailable
tothedefendantinacivilaction.Thejudgmentawardedinthiscasewithouttheneedforanyproofof
actualpecuniarylosswasonethousandtimesgreaterthanthemaximumfineprovidedbytheAlabama
criminalstatute,andonehundredtimesgreaterthanthatprovidedbytheSeditionAct.[p278]Andsince
thereisnodoublejeopardylimitationapplicabletocivillawsuits,thisisnottheonlyjudgmentthatmaybe
awardedagainstpetitionersforthesamepublication.[n18]Whetherornotanewspapercansurvivea
successionofsuchjudgments,thepalloffearandtimidityimposeduponthosewhowouldgivevoiceto
publiccriticismisanatmosphereinwhichtheFirstAmendmentfreedomscannotsurvive.Plainlythe
Alabamalawofcivillibelis

aformofregulationthatcreateshazardstoprotectedfreedomsmarkedlygreaterthanthosethatattend
relianceuponthecriminallaw.

BantamBooks,Inc.v.Sullivan,372U.S.58(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/372/58/),70.

Thestateruleoflawisnotsavedbyitsallowanceofthedefenseoftruth.Adefenseforerroneous
statementshonestlymadeisnolessessentialherethanwastherequirementofproofofguiltyknowledge
which,inSmithv.California,361U.S.147(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/361/147/),we
heldindispensabletoavalidconvictionofabooksellerforpossessingobscenewritingsforsale.Wesaid:

For,ifthebookselleriscriminallyliablewithoutknowledgeofthecontents,...Hewilltendtorestrictthe
bookshesellstothosehehasinspected,andthustheStatewillhaveimposedarestrictionuponthe
distributionofconstitutionallyprotected,aswellasobscene,literature....Andthebookseller'sburden
wouldbecomethepublic'sburden,for,byrestrictinghim,thepublic'saccesstoreadingmatterwouldbe
restricted....[H]istimidityinthefaceofhisabsolutecriminalliabilitythuswouldtendtorestrictthepublic's
accesstoformsoftheprintedwordwhichtheStatecouldnotconstitutionally[p279]suppressdirectly.The

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bookseller'sselfcensorship,compelledbytheState,wouldbeacensorshipaffectingthewholepublic,
hardlylessvirulentforbeingprivatelyadministered.Throughit,thedistributionofallbooks,bothobscene
andnotobscene,wouldbeimpeded.

(361U.S.147(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/361/147/),153154.)Arulecompellingthe
criticofofficialconducttoguaranteethetruthofallhisfactualassertionsandtodosoonpainoflibel
judgmentsvirtuallyunlimitedinamountleadstoacomparable"selfcensorship."Allowanceofthedefense
oftruth,withtheburdenofprovingitonthedefendant,doesnotmeanthatonlyfalsespeechwillbe
deterred.[n19]Evencourtsacceptingthisdefenseasanadequatesafeguardhaverecognizedthedifficulties
ofadducinglegalproofsthattheallegedlibelwastrueinallitsfactualparticulars.See,e.g.,PostPublishing
Co.v.Hallam,59F.530,540(C.A.6thCir.1893)seealsoNoel,DefamationofPublicOfficersand
Candidates,49Col.L.Rev.875,892(1949).Undersucharule,wouldbecriticsofofficialconductmaybe
deterredfromvoicingtheircriticism,eventhoughitisbelievedtobetrueandeventhoughitis,infact,true,
becauseofdoubtwhetheritcanbeprovedincourtorfearoftheexpenseofhavingtodoso.Theytendto
makeonlystatementswhich"steerfarwideroftheunlawfulzone."Speiserv.Randall,supra,357U.S.at
526.Therulethusdampensthevigorandlimitsthevarietyofpublicdebate.ItisinconsistentwiththeFirst
andFourteenthAmendments.Theconstitutionalguaranteesrequire,wethink,afederalrulethatprohibitsa
publicofficialfromrecoveringdamagesforadefamatoryfalsehoodrelatingtohisofficialconductunlesshe
provesthatthestatementwasmade[p280]with"actualmalice"thatis,withknowledgethatitwasfalse
orwithrecklessdisregardofwhetheritwasfalseornot.Anoftcitedstatementofalikerule,whichhasbeen
adoptedbyanumberofstatecourts,[n20]isfoundintheKansascaseofColemanv.MacLennan,78Kan.
711,98P.281(1908).TheStateAttorneyGeneral,acandidateforreelectionandamemberofthe
commissionchargedwiththemanagementandcontrolofthestateschoolfund,suedanewspaper
publisherforallegedlibelinanarticlepurportingtostatefactsrelatingtohisofficialconductinconnection
withaschoolfundtransaction.Thedefendantpleadedprivilegeandthetrialjudge,overtheplaintiff's
objection,instructedthejurythat

whereanarticleispublishedandcirculatedamongvotersforthesolepurposeofgivingwhatthedefendant
[p281]believestobetruthfulinformationconcerningacandidateforpublicofficeandforthepurposeof
enablingsuchvoterstocasttheirballotmoreintelligently,andthewholethingisdoneingoodfaithand
withoutmalice,thearticleisprivileged,althoughtheprincipalmatterscontainedinthearticlemaybeuntrue,
infact,andderogatorytothecharacteroftheplaintiff,andinsuchacasetheburdenisontheplaintiffto
showactualmaliceinthepublicationofthearticle.

Inanswertoaspecialquestion,thejuryfoundthattheplaintiffhadnotprovedactualmalice,andageneral
verdictwasreturnedforthedefendant.Onappeal,theSupremeCourtofKansas,inanopinionbyJustice
Burch,reasonedasfollows(78Kan.,at724,98P.at286):

Itisoftheutmostconsequencethatthepeopleshoulddiscussthecharacterandqualificationsof
candidatesfortheirsuffrages.Theimportancetothestateandtosocietyofsuchdiscussionsissovast,and
theadvantagesderivedaresogreat,thattheymorethancounterbalancetheinconvenienceofprivate
personswhoseconductmaybeinvolved,andoccasionalinjurytothereputationsofindividualsmustyieldto
thepublicwelfare,althoughattimessuchinjurymaybegreat.Thepublicbenefitfrompublicityissogreat,
andthechanceofinjurytoprivatecharactersosmall,thatsuchdiscussionmustbeprivileged.

Thecourtthussustainedthetrialcourt'sinstructionasacorrectstatementofthelaw,saying:

Insuchacasetheoccasiongivesrisetoaprivilege,qualifiedtothisextent:anyoneclaimingtobedefamed
bythecommunicationmustshowactualmaliceorgoremediless.Thisprivilegeextendstoagreatvarietyof
subjects,andincludesmattersof[p282]publicconcern,publicmen,andcandidatesforoffice.

78Kan.at723,98P.at285.

[n21]
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Suchaprivilegeforcriticismofofficialconduct[n21]isappropriatelyanalogoustotheprotectionaccordeda
publicofficialwhenheissuedforlibelbyaprivatecitizen.InBarrv.Matteo,360U.S.564
(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/360/564/),575,thisCourtheldtheutteranceofafederal
officialtobeabsolutelyprivilegedifmade"withintheouterperimeter"ofhisduties.TheStatesaccordthe
sameimmunitytostatementsoftheirhighestofficers,althoughsomedifferentiatetheirlesserofficialsand
qualifytheprivilegetheyenjoy.[n22]Butallholdthatallofficialsareprotectedunlessactualmalicecanbe
proved.Thereasonfortheofficialprivilegeissaidtobethatthethreatofdamagesuitswouldotherwise
"inhibitthefearless,vigorous,andeffectiveadministrationofpoliciesofgovernment"and"dampentheardor
ofallbutthemostresolute,orthemostirresponsible,intheunflinchingdischargeoftheirduties."Barrv.
Matteo,supra,360U.S.at571.Analogousconsiderationssupporttheprivilegeforthecitizencriticof
government.Itisasmuchhisdutytocriticizeasitistheofficial'sdutytoadminister.SeeWhitneyv.
California,274U.S.357(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/274/357/),375(concurringopinion
ofMr.JusticeBrandeis),quotedsupra,p.270.AsMadisonsaid,seesuprap.275,"thecensorialpowerisin
thepeopleovertheGovernment,andnotintheGovernmentoverthepeople."Itwouldgivepublicservants
anunjustifiedpreferenceoverthepublictheyserve,ifcriticsofofficialconduct[p283]didnothaveafair
equivalentoftheimmunitygrantedtotheofficialsthemselves.

WeconcludethatsuchaprivilegeisrequiredbytheFirstandFourteenthAmendments.

III

WeholdtodaythattheConstitutiondelimitsaState'spowertoawarddamagesforlibelinactionsbrought
bypublicofficialsagainstcriticsoftheirofficialconduct.Sincethisissuchanaction,[n23]therulerequiring
proofofactualmaliceisapplicable.WhileAlabamalawapparentlyrequiresproofofactualmaliceforan
awardofpunitivedamages,[n24]wheregeneraldamagesareconcernedmaliceis"presumed."Sucha
presumptionisinconsistent[p284]withthefederalrule."Thepowertocreatepresumptionsisnotameans
ofescapefromconstitutionalrestrictions,"Baileyv.Alabama,219U.S.219
(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/219/219/),239,"theshowingofmalicerequiredforthe
forfeitureoftheprivilegeisnotpresumedbutisamatterforproofbytheplaintiff...."Lawrencev.Fox,357
Mich.134,146,97N.W.2d719,725(1959).[n25]Sincethetrialjudgedidnotinstructthejurytodifferentiate
betweengeneralandpunitivedamages,itmaybethattheverdictwaswhollyanawardofoneortheother.
Butitisimpossibletoknow,inviewofthegeneralverdictreturned.Becauseofthisuncertainty,the
judgmentmustbereversedandthecaseremanded.Strombergv.California,283U.S.359
(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/283/359/),367368Williamsv.NorthCarolina,317U.S.287
(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/317/287/),291292seeYatesv.UnitedStates,354U.S.
298(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/354/298/),311312Cramerv.UnitedStates,325U.S.1
(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/325/1/),36,n.45.

Sincerespondentmayseekanewtrial,wedeemthatconsiderationsofeffectivejudicialadministration
requireustoreviewtheevidenceinthepresentrecordtodetermine[p285]whetheritcouldconstitutionally
supportajudgmentforrespondent.ThisCourt'sdutyisnotlimitedtotheelaborationofconstitutional
principleswemustalsoinpropercasesreviewtheevidencetomakecertainthatthoseprincipleshave
beenconstitutionallyapplied.Thisissuchacase,particularlysincethequestionisoneofallegedtrespass
across"thelinebetweenspeechunconditionallyguaranteedandspeechwhichmaylegitimatelybe
regulated."Speiserv.Randall,357U.S.513(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/357/513/),525.
Incaseswherethatlinemustbedrawn,theruleisthatwe

examineforourselvesthestatementsinissueandthecircumstancesunderwhichtheyweremadetosee..
.whethertheyareofacharacterwhichtheprinciplesoftheFirstAmendment,asadoptedbytheDue
ProcessClauseoftheFourteenthAmendment,protect.

Pennekampv.Florida,328U.S.331(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/328/331/),335see
alsoOne,Inc.,v.Olesen,355U.S.371(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/355/371/)Sunshine
BookCo.v.Summerfield,355U.S.372(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/355/372/).Wemust
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"makeanindependentexaminationofthewholerecord,"Edwardsv.SouthCarolina,372U.S.229
(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/372/229/),235,soastoassureourselvesthatthejudgment
doesnotconstituteaforbiddenintrusiononthefieldoffreeexpression.[n26]

Applyingthesestandards,weconsiderthattheproofpresentedtoshowactualmalicelackstheconvincing
[p286]claritywhichtheconstitutionalstandarddemands,andhencethatitwouldnotconstitutionallysustain
thejudgmentforrespondentundertheproperruleoflaw.Thecaseoftheindividualpetitionersrequires
littlediscussion.Evenassumingthattheycouldconstitutionallybefoundtohaveauthorizedtheuseoftheir
namesontheadvertisement,therewasnoevidencewhateverthattheywereawareofanyerroneous
statementsorwereinanywayrecklessinthatregard.Thejudgmentagainstthemisthuswithout
constitutionalsupport.

AstotheTimes,wesimilarlyconcludethatthefactsdonotsupportafindingofactualmalice.The
statementbytheTimes'Secretarythat,apartfromthepadlockingallegation,hethoughttheadvertisement
was"substantiallycorrect,"affordsnoconstitutionalwarrantfortheAlabamaSupremeCourt'sconclusion
thatitwasa

cavalierignoringofthefalsityoftheadvertisement[fromwhich]thejurycouldnothavebutbeenimpressed
withthebadfaithofTheTimes,anditsmaliciousnessinferabletherefrom.

Thestatementdoesnotindicatemaliceatthetimeofthepublicationeveniftheadvertisementwasnot
"substantiallycorrect"althoughrespondent'sownproofstendtoshowthatitwasthatopinionwasat
leastareasonableone,andtherewasnoevidencetoimpeachthewitness'goodfaithinholdingit.The
Times'failuretoretractuponrespondent'sdemand,althoughitlaterretracteduponthedemandof
GovernorPatterson,islikewisenotadequateevidenceofmaliceforconstitutionalpurposes.Whetherornot
afailuretoretractmayeverconstitutesuchevidence,therearetworeasonswhyitdoesnothere.First,the
letterwrittenbytheTimesreflectedareasonabledoubtonitspartastowhethertheadvertisementcould
reasonablybetakentorefertorespondentatall.Second,itwasnotafinalrefusal,sinceitaskedforan
explanationonthispointarequestthatrespondentchosetoignore.Nordoestheretractionuponthe
demandoftheGovernorsupplythe[p287]necessaryproof.Itmaybedoubtedthatafailuretoretract,
whichisnotitselfevidenceofmalice,canretroactivelybecomesuchbyvirtueofaretractionsubsequently
madetoanotherparty.But,inanyevent,thatdidnothappenhere,sincetheexplanationgivenbythe
Times'SecretaryforthedistinctiondrawnbetweenrespondentandtheGovernorwasareasonableone,
thegoodfaithofwhichwasnotimpeached.

Finally,thereisevidencethattheTimespublishedtheadvertisementwithoutcheckingitsaccuracyagainst
thenewsstoriesintheTimes'ownfiles.Themerepresenceofthestoriesinthefilesdoesnot,ofcourse,
establishthattheTimes"knew"theadvertisementwasfalse,sincethestateofmindrequiredforactual
malicewouldhavetobebroughthometothepersonsintheTimes'organizationhavingresponsibilityfor
thepublicationoftheadvertisement.Withrespecttothefailureofthosepersonstomakethecheck,the
recordshowsthattheyreliedupontheirknowledgeofthegoodreputationofmanyofthosewhosenames
werelistedassponsorsoftheadvertisement,andupontheletterfromA.PhilipRandolph,knowntothem
asaresponsibleindividual,certifyingthattheuseofthenameswasauthorized.Therewastestimonythat
thepersonshandlingtheadvertisementsawnothinginitthatwouldrenderitunacceptableundertheTimes'
policyofrejectingadvertisementscontaining"attacksofapersonalcharacter"[n27]theirfailuretorejectiton
thisgroundwasnotunreasonable.Wethink[p288]theevidenceagainsttheTimessupports,atmost,a
findingofnegligenceinfailingtodiscoverthemisstatements,andisconstitutionallyinsufficienttoshowthe
recklessnessthatisrequiredforafindingofactualmalice.Cf.CharlesParkerCo.v.SilverCityCrystalCo.,
142Conn.605,618,116A.2d440,446(1955)PhoenixNewspapers,Inc.,v.Choisser,82Ariz.271,277
278,312P.2d150,154155(1957).

Wealsothinktheevidencewasconstitutionallydefectiveinanotherrespect:itwasincapableofsupporting
thejury'sfindingthattheallegedlylibelousstatementsweremade"ofandconcerning"respondent.
Respondentreliesonthewordsoftheadvertisementandthetestimonyofsixwitnessestoestablisha
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connectionbetweenitandhimself.Thus,inhisbrieftothisCourt,hestates:

Thereferencetorespondentaspolicecommissionerisclearfromthead.Inaddition,thejuryheardthe
testimonyofanewspapereditor...arealestateandinsuranceman...thesalesmanagerofamen's
clothingstore...afoodequipmentman...aservicestationoperator...,andtheoperatorofatruck
lineforwhomrespondenthadformerlyworked....Eachofthesewitnessesstatedthatheassociatedthe
statementswithrespondent....

(Citationstorecordomitted.)Therewasnoreferencetorespondentintheadvertisement,eitherbynameor
officialposition.Anumberoftheallegedlylibelousstatementsthechargesthatthedininghallwas
padlockedandthatDr.King'shomewasbombed,hispersonassaulted,andaperjuryprosecutioninstituted
againsthimdidnotevenconcernthepolicedespitetheingenuityoftheargumentswhichwouldattach
thissignificancetotheword"They,"itisplainthatthesestatementscouldnotreasonablybereadas
accusingrespondentofpersonalinvolvementintheacts[p289]inquestion.Thestatementsuponwhich
respondentprincipallyreliesasreferringtohimarethetwoallegationsthatdidconcernthepoliceorpolice
functions:that"truckloadsofpolice...ringedtheAlabamaStateCollegeCampus"afterthedemonstration
ontheStateCapitolsteps,andthatDr.Kinghadbeen"arrested...seventimes."Thesestatementswere
falseonlyinthatthepolicehadbeen"deployednear"thecampus,buthadnotactually"ringed"it,andhad
notgonethereinconnectionwiththeStateCapitoldemonstration,andinthatDr.Kinghadbeenarrested
onlyfourtimes.Therulingthatthesediscrepanciesbetweenwhatwastrueandwhatwasassertedwere
sufficienttoinjurerespondent'sreputationmayitselfraiseconstitutionalproblems,butweneednotconsider
themhere.Althoughthestatementsmaybetakenasreferringtothepolice,theydidnot,ontheirface,
makeevenanobliquereferencetorespondentasanindividual.Supportfortheassertedreferencemust,
therefore,besoughtinthetestimonyofrespondent'switnesses.Butnoneofthemsuggestedanybasisfor
thebeliefthatrespondenthimselfwasattackedintheadvertisementbeyondthebarefactthathewasin
overallchargeofthePoliceDepartmentandthusboreofficialresponsibilityforpoliceconducttotheextent
thatsomeofthewitnessesthoughtrespondenttohavebeenchargedwithorderingorapprovingthe
conductorotherwisebeingpersonallyinvolvedinit,theybasedthisnotionnotonanystatementsinthe
advertisement,andnotonanyevidencethathehad,infact,beensoinvolved,butsolelyonthe
unsupportedassumptionthat,becauseofhisofficialposition,hemusthavebeen.[n28]Thisrelianceonthe
bare[p290]factofrespondent'sofficialposition[n29]wasmadeexplicitbytheSupremeCourtofAlabama.
Thatcourt,inholdingthatthetrialcourt"didnoterrinoverrulingthedemurrer[oftheTimes]intheaspect
thatthelibelous[p291]matterwasnotofandconcerningthe[plaintiff,]"baseditsrulingontheproposition
that:

Wethinkitcommonknowledgethattheaveragepersonknowsthatmunicipalagents,suchaspoliceand
firemen,andothers,areunderthecontrolanddirectionofthecitygoverningbody,andmoreparticularly
underthedirectionandcontrolofasinglecommissioner.Inmeasuringtheperformanceordeficienciesof
suchgroups,praiseorcriticismisusuallyattachedtotheofficialincompletecontrolofthebody.

273Ala.,at674675,144So.2dat39.

Thispropositionhasdisquietingimplicationsforcriticismofgovernmentalconduct.Forgoodreason,

nocourtoflastresortinthiscountryhaseverheld,orevensuggested,thatprosecutionsforlibelon
governmenthaveanyplaceintheAmericansystemofjurisprudence.

CityofChicagov.TribuneCo.,307Ill.595,601,139N.E.[p292]86,88(1923).Thepresentproposition
wouldsidestepthisobstaclebytransmutingcriticismofgovernment,howeverimpersonalitmayseemonits
face,intopersonalcriticism,andhencepotentiallibel,oftheofficialsofwhomthegovernmentiscomposed.
ThereisnolegalalchemybywhichaStatemaythuscreatethecauseofactionthatwouldotherwisebe
deniedforapublicationwhich,asrespondenthimselfsaidoftheadvertisement,"reflectsnotonlyonmebut
ontheotherCommissionersandthecommunity."Raisingasitdoesthepossibilitythatagoodfaithcriticof
governmentwillbepenalizedforhiscriticism,thepropositionreliedonbytheAlabamacourtsstrikesatthe
[n30]
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verycenteroftheconstitutionallyprotectedareaoffreeexpression.[n30]Weholdthatsuchaproposition
maynotconstitutionallybeutilizedtoestablishthatanotherwiseimpersonalattackongovernmental
operationswasalibelofanofficialresponsibleforthoseoperations.Sinceitwasreliedonexclusivelyhere,
andtherewasnootherevidencetoconnectthestatementswithrespondent,theevidencewas
constitutionallyinsufficienttosupportafindingthatthestatementsreferredtorespondent.

ThejudgmentoftheSupremeCourtofAlabamaisreversed,andthecaseisremandedtothatcourtfor
furtherproceedingsnotinconsistentwiththisopinion.

Reversedandremanded.[p293]

*
TogetherwithNo.40,Abernathyetal.v.Sullivan,alsooncertioraritothesamecourt,arguedJanuary7,
1964.

1.
AcopyoftheadvertisementisprintedintheAppendix[omitted].

2.
Respondentdidnotconsiderthechargeofexpellingthestudentstobeapplicabletohim,since"that
responsibilityrestswiththeStateDepartmentofEducation."

3.
Approximately394copiesoftheeditionoftheTimescontainingtheadvertisementwerecirculatedin
Alabama.Ofthese,about35copiesweredistributedinMontgomeryCounty.Thetotalcirculationofthe
Timesforthatdaywasapproximately650,000copies.

4.
SincewesustainthecontentionsofallthepetitionersundertheFirstAmendment'sguaranteesoffreedom
ofspeechandofthepressasappliedtotheStatesbytheFourteenthAmendment,wedonotdecidethe
questionspresentedbytheotherclaimsofviolationoftheFourteenthAmendment.Theindividual
petitionerscontendthatthejudgmentagainstthemoffendstheDueProcessClausebecausetherewasno
evidencetoshowthattheyhadpublishedorauthorizedthepublicationoftheallegedlibel,andthattheDue
ProcessandEqualProtectionClauseswereviolatedbyracialsegregationandracialbiasinthecourtroom.
TheTimescontendsthattheassumptionofjurisdictionoveritscorporatepersonbytheAlabamacourts
overreachestheterritoriallimitsoftheDueProcessClause.Thelatterclaimisforeclosedfromourreview
bytherulingoftheAlabamacourtsthattheTimesenteredageneralappearanceintheaction,andthus
waiveditsjurisdictionalobjectionwecannotsaythatthisrulinglacks"fairorsubstantialsupport"inprior
Alabamadecisions.SeeThompsonv.Wilson,224Ala.299,140So.439(1932)compareNAACPv.
Alabama,357U.S.449(http://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt//text/357/449/),454458.

5.
SeeAmericanLawInstitute,RestatementofTorts,593,Commentb(1938).

6.
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