A federal appeals court has overturned a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit against The New York Times by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), who claimed the newspaper defamed her by linking her to a 2011 mass shooting.
A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that Palin’s suit against the Times “plausibly states a claim for defamation and may proceed to full discovery,” according to NPR.
The lawsuit stems from a 2017 Times editorial, titled “America’s Lethal Politics,” published in the aftermath of the shooting at a baseball field in Virginia that left House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) in critical condition.
The piece looked at “how vicious American politics has become” and the role that weaponized rhetoric may play in mass shootings.
The editorial initially linked activity by Palin’s political action committee to a 2011 shooting in Arizona that killed six people and injured then-Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and a dozen others. The PAC had previously distributed a map of some Democratic congressional districts — including Giffords’ — with a crosshairs superimposed over it.
A direct link between the map and the 2011 shooting was never established, and the Times later issued a correction and apologized on Twitter for the error.
Palin’s lawyers filed a complaint later that month, alleging that the initial editorial defamed her “by publishing a statement it knew to be false: that Mrs. Palin was responsible for inciting a mass shooting at a political event.”
U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff dismissed the suit in August 2017, saying the editorial may have contained errors but that it wasn’t plausible those errors were made with malice.
“Negligence this may be; but defamation of a public figure it plainly is not,” Rakoff wrote in his 26-page decision.
Palin appealed the decision, leading to the court’s ruling this week.
The judges gave the suit a green light to move forward but noted that Palin’s attorneys will need to prove with “clear and convincing evidence” that the Times editors “acted with actual malice” in order to win their case.
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