The Warren Court (1953–69)

Freedom of Expression

What was the alleged defamation in New York Times v. Sullivan?

The case involved a March 1960 editorial advertisement published in the New York Times called “Heed Their Rising Voices.” The ad referred to violations of civil rights in the South; it contained several errors. For example, the ad said that police in Montgomery, Alabama, padlocked a dining hall at Alabama State College. The ad also said that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been arrested seven times. These were not true, as the police did not padlock the dining hall and King had only been arrested four times. Montgomery police commissioner L. B. Sullivan sued for libel in Alabama state court. A jury awarded him $500,000 in damages.


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