“Ron DeSantis Wants To Rewrite Defamation Law”

“The bill is an aggressive and blatantly unconstitutional attempt to rewrite defamation law in a manner that protects the powerful from criticism by journalists and the public,” said one attorney.

by Emma Camp, from Reason.com

A legislative ally of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis introduced a bill in the Florida House on Tuesday that would remove many of the legal protections against defamation lawsuits established in the 1964 Supreme Court case New York Times v. Sullivan. The new bill is yet another attempt by DeSantis, an aggressive critic of defamation law, to curb First Amendment protections in Florida.

Introduced by Rep. Alex Andrade (R—Pensacola), the bill would make sweeping changes to the standards for pursuing a defamation claim against a public figure. The law would narrow the definition of a public figure by excluding persons whose notoriety arises solely from “defending himself or herself publicly against an accusation,” giving an interview on a subject, public employment (other than elected or appointed office), or “a video, an image, or a statement uploaded on the Internet that has reached a broad audience.”

“At the end of the day, it’s our view in Florida that we want to be standing up for the little guy against some of these massive media conglomerates,” DeSantis said in a February 7 roundtable event on the subject, adding that journalism “really chills, I think, people’s willingness to want to participate” in public discussion.

DeSantis has strongly criticized New York Times v. Sullivan, a 1964 Supreme Court case establishing the actual malice standard for defamation claims against public figures. Following Sullivan, public officials could not successfully sue for libel or defamation without proving that the false statements made against them were made with “actual malice”—meaning “with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.”

Andrade’s bill explicitly defies Sullivan by establishing that the “actual malice” standard will not be required to prove defamation “when the allegation does not relate to the reason for his or her public status.” Further, the bill also significantly expands the circumstances under which a fact finder can infer actual malice, such as when an allegation is “inherently implausible” or “There are obvious reasons to doubt the veracity” of the allegation.

Full Post by Emma Camp @ https://reason.com/2023/02/22/ron-desantis-wants-to-rewrite-defamation-law/

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