We shared with you yesterday one of GOP frontrunner Donald Trump’s campaign promises that had many of us rather alarmed. After Trump declared he would “open up our libel laws” to sue media organizations that write “purposefully negative and horrible and false articles,” folks on both the left and right voiced concerns for our First Amendment.
Liberal media bias notwithstanding, we rely on the media to be able to investigate and speak freely about our leaders without fear of repercussion — as admittedly lacking as the press may be in this regard at times. As The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro writes:
Now, we all hate the mainstream media’s leftist bias. But Trump’s solution here is not just petty and counterproductive: it’s tyrannical. It places all media outlets under threat of litigation from the politicians upon whom they are supposed to report.
Of course, there is the question of whether the President of the United States has power to “open up our libel laws” in any case. One journalist reached out to First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams to hear his perspective. Abrams’ answer, in short: “he simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
Via The Blaze:Editorial writer and editor Josh Greenman reached out to First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams to hear his perspective on the Republican front-runner ’s expressed goal of opening up libel law. Abrams’ reply, which Greenman shared in a tweet, reveals a major flaw in Trump’s objective: As president, Trump wouldn’t have the authority to do such a thing.
“There is no federal libel law for Trump to amend or change and thus no role for the President at all,” Abrams wrote in an email.
Libel law, Abrams wrote, has been a prerogative of the states “from the first days of the nation,” and all 50 states have their own libel laws.
Abrams did, however, note one exception.
“The First Amendment governs in state and federal courts and so when T[rump] says he wants to ‘open up’ libel law, he really means … that he wants to open up … the First Amendment.”
The attorney explained that since 1964, the First Amendment has been held to require “proof that what was said was false and that the newspaper knew or suspected that it was false.”
“In short,” Abrams concluded, “he simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
For the record, Abrams is an expert on constitutional law, and many arguments in the briefs he has written before the United States Supreme Court have been adopted as United States Constitutional interpretative law as it relates to the First Amendment and free speech.
This should provide some comfort on any president’s ability to — at least, lawfully — pen up our free press. However, it’s hard to mistake the spirit of Trump’s statements, which appear to put on notice those who would challenge his record or otherwise write unfavorably about him.
[Note: This article was written by Michelle Jesse, Associate Editor]