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Grant number like: FZ-272129-20

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Samantha Barbas
SUNY Research Foundation, University at Buffalo (Amherst, NY 14228-2577)

Public Scholars
Research Programs

[Grant products]

$30,000 (approved)
$30,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
1/1/2021 – 8/31/2021

New York Times v. Sullivan: The Landmark Case that Shaped Politics and the Press As We Know It

Writing a book presenting a comprehensive history of the Supreme Court case New York Times v. Sullivan (1964), which established the current legal standard of libel against public officials.

In 1964 the Supreme Court decided New York Times v. Sullivan, holding that public officials cannot recover for libel unless they show “reckless disregard of the truth.” This requirement makes it near-impossible to win a libel suit. As a result, American libel law is the most protective of speech and least protective of reputation in the world. Sullivan is considered one of the great constitutional law opinions and the cornerstone of modern First Amendment law. Despite this, there has been little in-depth writing on it. This work presents the first comprehensive history of Sullivan. It takes the unorthodox position that the decision was not a clear civil liberties triumph but the product of institutional missteps–by the Times, the press, and the Supreme Court – that led to mixed consequences in the long term. Through a history of the case and its consequences, the work invites readers to consider whether revisions to the law may be necessary to protect free speech and civility.