New York Times v. Sullivan (1964)

In this freedom of the press case, the Court held that the First Amendment protected all statements about public officials unless the speaker lied with the explicit intent to defame. The case involved an advertisement, signed by civil rights leaders including Martin Luther King, Jr., which contained statements that turned out to be false. The decision held, “the pall of fear and timidity imposed upon those who would give voice to public criticism is an atmosphere in which the First Amendment freedoms cannot survive.”

In referring to the historic importance of a free press to ensure justice in government, the ruling mentioned Thomas Jefferson’s and James Madison’s Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, which were written in response to the Alien and Sedition Acts. Madison calls this right “the right of freely examining public characters and measures, and of free communication among the people thereon, which has ever been justly deemed the only effectual guardian of every other right.”

The case touched on constitutional principles including individual rights andlimits on rights, and civic values including responsibility, consideration, and respect.