First Amendment Rights and the Warren Court

On The Media’s section on the First Amendment Right and the New York Times v. Sullivan case is particularly interesting because of the changes of standards in our media. In Times v. Sullivan the prosecutors tried to use the state libel laws to “chill” the press. According to Andrew Cohan the chilling effect would “force reporters either not to cover stories in the states or to cover Civil Rights stories in a way that was not true.” In Times v. Sullivan the court held that “the Constitution delimits a State’s power to award damages for libel actions brought by public officials against critics of their official conducts” (Kimeck 393). Justice Black writing the concurring opinion wrote that the First and Fourteenth Amendments not merely delimited the State to award damages for libel actions brought by the public officials but they “completely prohibit[ed] a State from exercising such a power” (Kimeck 395). In another concurring opinion Justice Goldberg wrote, “[T]he First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution afford to the citizen and to the press an absolute, unconditional privilege to criticize official conduct” (395).

This landmark case changed the way in which our media operates today. As Cohan mentioned in his interview with On The Media, if the Supreme Court had upheld the State of Alabama’s decision the press today could not exercise their right to Freedom of Speech without having the fear of being sued by the public officials. With the open criticism of government officials and programs today, the critics are able to condemn certain policies which would have been difficult had the Supreme Court not overruled Alabama’s decision.

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