Judge Throws Out Sarah Palin’s Defamation Suit Against the Times

A judge just ruled against Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. The judge threw out the defamation lawsuit Palin had against the New York Times over an editorial written in 2017. Apparently, Palin’s lawyers did not produce enough evidence that the newspaper knew that what they wrote about her was false or acted recklessly regarding indications that it was false.

Jed Rakoff was the U.S. District Court Judge that ended the case. The ruling came in the midst of a jury in Manhattan deliberating Palin’s suit. She believes that the New York Times, along with their former editor James Bennet, defamed her by linking her unfairly to a 2011 shooting crime in Arizona. The incident killed six people and also wounded former Rep. Gabby Giffords.

Judge Rakoff did allow the jury to continue to deliberate saying that an appeal was likely and the jury’s verdict could be useful to the appeals court. The order to dismiss the case came after a trial that lasted more than a week. The jury was already in its second day of deliberation.

The judge explained in his ruling that Palin’s attorneys did not elicit enough evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude that the Alaskan governor experienced the “actual malice” standard set by the Supreme Court for libel suits against public figures. The High Court set this standard in 1984 in the New York Times Co. v. Sullivan ruling.

Rakoff said, “The Supreme Court made that balance and set a very high standard, and I don’t think that standard has been realized by a plaintiff concerning at least one aspect of the actual malice requirement. I don’t think a reasonable juror could conclude that Mr. Bennet either knew the statements were false or that he thought the statements were false and he recklessly disregarded that high probability.”

When Palin filed the suit more than four years ago, her lawyers said that it would be a case that could challenge the “actual malice” standard set by the Supreme Court. This case came while other prominent Republican leaders like former President Donald Trump were frustrated with the Times v. Sullivan precedent.

It wasn’t long ago that Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch invited their fellow justices to revisit that decision. But since then, the New York Legislature embraced this very standard as the rule within New York State law. That made Palin’s case an unlikely one to challenge the standard that has been in place for almost 50 years.

The editorial written in the Times by Bennet was titled “America’s Lethal Politics.” It was published a day after a gunman opened fire on a congressional GOP baseball practice in Virginia. The shooter wounded Rep. Steve Scalise and three other people and was killed in the attack. Bennet said that he saw the incident as a chance to urge politicians to tone down their rhetoric. He, then, suggested that there was a link between a targeting map issued by Palin’s political action committee and the 2011 Arizona shooting. But no link was ever established. The Times wrote two corrections to the editorial within hours, but Sarah Palin believes they were inadequate. She said the publication damaged her reputation and caused her to have fewer speaking engagements and requests for political assistance.

When Judge Rakoff gave his ruling, he had this to say to the Times, “Ms. Palin was subjected to an ultimately unsupported and very serious allegation that Mr. Bennet chose to revisit 7 years or so after the underlying events. I think this is an example of very unfortunate editorializing on the part of the Times but, having said that, that’s not the issue before this court.”

This is the second time that Judge Rakoff has dismissed this case. In 2017, he threw it out after a very unusual hearing where Bennet testified concerning his decision-making for the editorial. But the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated Palin’s case and said that Rakoff’s actions were unorthodox and in violation of federal rules in civil litigation.

Palin’s attorney, Kenneth Turkel, urged the jury to hold the Times accountable. He said it boiled down to a simple rule: “Don’t say false things.”