Let’s say that you are very upset by what you have seen in last year’s presidential election. You genuinely believe that there was enough fraud to shift the election to Joe Biden. What the left calls the “big lie.”
And let’s say that you happen to be the CEO of a company that is a large advertiser on radio and TV.
And let’s also say you are not shy about making your opinion known — in fact, you produced a movie about election fraud.
Does that entitle a manufacturer of voting machines to sue you for $1.3 billion? That is, after all, a number that makes for a great headline.
There are two answers for that question. One is the legal answer, and the other is the practical answer.
The legal answer is embodied in a case the Supreme Court heard in 1964 which has been seminal law since it was decided. That case is New York Times (which was once a real newspaper) v. Sullivan. Sullivan used to be the police (or public safety) commissioner of Montgomery, Alabama.
The Times took an ad raising money for Martin Luther King. Sullivan took offense and demanded a retraction even though he was not mentioned in the ad but felt it reflected poorly on his police department. The Times rightfully said no.
Sullivan sued for libel.
A unanimous court ruled, “A State cannot, under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, award damages to a public official for defamatory falsehood relating to his official conduct unless he proves “actual malice” — that the statement was made with knowledge of its falsity or with reckless disregard of whether it was true or false.” That has been the standard since 1964.
I personally was on the winning side in a case involving a former mayor of Peoria, Illinois, and our lawyers hammered home the Sullivan decision so hard that the former mayor, a lawyer who later became a judge, chose not to appeal.
Now when you are in the business of selling voting machines to taxpayer-funded entities, you are the definition of a public figure. And there is always robust debate about voting systems.
People can and should be able to say anything they want about your company.