Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin just won a huge legal victory in a lawsuit against The New York Times — and Tuesday’s ruling was two years in the making.
Palin sued the Grey Lady in Jun. 2017 after an editorial published by the newspaper in the aftermath of the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise and other Republican lawmakers. Palin claimed the editorial, titled “America’s Lethal Politics” falsely linked her to the “political incitement” of a 2011 Arizona shooting that killed six people and severely wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-A.Z.
Shortly before the attack on Giffords, Palin’s politcal action committee (SarahPAC) put out a television advertisement that “targeted” Gifford’s district in the upcoming election under a super-imposed crosshair. The Times alleged, without evidence, that Gifford’s shooter was inspired by this advertisement.
Palin sued for defamation, but her case was dismissed over the First Amendment rights of the newspaper.
“In 2017, United States District Court Judge Jed S. Rakoff held an evidentiary hearing to determine whether Palin’s complaint against the Times properly alleged all the required elements of a defamation claim,” Law and Crime reported. “Rakoff then relied on the evidence adduced at that hearing to dismiss Palin’s complaint under the Federal Rules of Procedure 12(b)(6), meaning Palin failed to state a claim upon which relief can legally be granted.”
“Nowhere is political journalism so free, so robust, or perhaps so rowdy as in the United States,” Rakoff wrote in the ruling that dismissed Palin’s case. “In the exercise of that freedom, mistakes will be made, some of which will be hurtful to others.”
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However, that ruling has been found to be incorrect — and Palin’s lawsuit was reinstated.
Tuesday’s court ruling found that Rakoff improperly relied on outside facts not presented in the case. In other words, it was improper liberal bias — and grounds for reinstating Palin’s claim, the Second District Court of Appeals ruled.
“We find that the district court erred in relying on facts outside the pleadings to dismiss the complaint,” the appeals court said. “We further conclude that Palin’s Proposed Amended Complaint plausibly states a claim for defamation and may proceed to full discovery.”
“No evidence ever emerged to establish that link [between Palin’s ad and the shooting]; in fact, the criminal investigation of Loughner indicated that his animosity towards Representative Giffords had arisen before SarahPAC published the map,” the court determined.
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“We conclude by recognizing that First Amendment protections are essential to provide ‘breathing space’ for freedom of expression. But, at this stage, our concern is with how district courts evaluate pleadings,” their ruling stated. “Nothing in this opinion should therefore be construed to cast doubt on the First Amendment’s crucial constitutional protections. Indeed, this protection is precisely why Palin’s evidentiary burden at trial—to show by clear and convincing evidence that Bennet acted with actual malice—is high. At the pleading stage, however, Palin’s only obstacle is the plausibility standard of Twombly and Iqbal. She has cleared that hurdle.”