The Slatest

Donald Trump Vows to Curb Press Freedom Through Harsher Libel Laws

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally at the Fort Worth Convention Center on February 26, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  

Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The leading contender to become the Republican candidate for president wants to make it easier to sue news organizations. Donald Trump said on Friday that he wants to change the country’s libel laws in a way that could strike at the heart of the First Amendment.

“One of the things I’m going to do if I win—and I hope we do, and we’re certainly leading—I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money,” Trump said. “So when the New York Times writes a hit piece, which is a total disgrace, or when the Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.”

Trump then went on to utter what sounded like a straight-up threat: “We’re going to open up libel laws and we’re going to have people sue you like you’ve never got sued before.”

Although Trump did not give any details about what he would do to turn his threat into a reality, he does seem to want to undo New York Times v Sullivan. In that 1964 landmark case, the Supreme Court determined that public figures must prove that any defamatory statements were made with “actual malice,” meaning it “was made with knowledge of its falsity or with reckless disregard of whether it was true or false.”

Many conservatives have long criticized the 1964 decision, including late justice Antonin Scalia, who said in 2012 that he “abhors” the ruling. “Who told Earl Warren and the Supreme Court that what had been accepted libel law for a couple hundred years was no longer?” Scalia said in a Charlie Rose interview.