SYMPOSIUM: THE PRESS AND THE CONSTITUTION 50 YEARS AFTER NEW YORK TIMES V. SULLIVAN: PANEL 1: THE SUPREME COURT AND THE PRESS CLAUSE: A COMPLICATED RELATIONSHIP: CITIZEN-CRITICS, CITIZEN JOURNALISTS, AND THE PERILS OF DEFINING THE PRESS Skip over navigation
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Copyright (c) 2014 Georgia Law Review Association, Inc.
Georgia Law Review

SYMPOSIUM: THE PRESS AND THE CONSTITUTION 50 YEARS AFTER NEW YORK TIMES V. SULLIVAN: PANEL 1: THE SUPREME COURT AND THE PRESS CLAUSE: A COMPLICATED RELATIONSHIP: CITIZEN-CRITICS, CITIZEN JOURNALISTS, AND THE PERILS OF DEFINING THE PRESS

Spring, 2014

Georgia Law Review

48 Ga. L. Rev. 757

Author

William E. Lee *

Excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION
The fact of the matter is these petitioners are here today because they're Negroes and because they've been leaders in the fight for civil rights.

That's all there is to this case.

--William P. Rogers, counsel for petitioners in Abernathy v. Sullivan 1


Media lawyers frequently describe New York Times Co. v. Sullivan 2 as a great win for the press. 3 Certainly the Court's ruling saved the New York Times from financial ruin. 4 However, four Alabama ministers active in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Ralph D. Abernathy, Joseph E. Lowery, Fred L. Shuttlesworth, and S.S. Seay Sr., were also targeted by Sullivan as defendants. 5 Despite testimony that the ministers had not authorized the use of their names in the advertisement, "Heed Their Rising Voices," and learned of the ad only when Sullivan asked them for a retraction, 6 the jury found each liable for defamation along with the New York Times. 7 In partial settlement of the $ 500,000 libel judgment, Alabama authorities confiscated the ministers' bank accounts and sold automobiles and real estate owned by the ministers. 8

Sullivan was not the only successful plaintiff; a few months after the New York Times v. Sullivan verdict, Earl James, mayor of Montgomery, also won a $ 500,000 verdict against the New York Times and the four ministers. 9 The financial persecution of the ministers drove the leadership of the SCLC out of the "toughest parts of the South." 10 As William ...
 
 
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