By dismissing former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's lawsuit against the New York Times, a federal judge kept one of the media's landmark legal protections in place, at least for now, Axios reports. "I think a lot of media companies and lawyers representing media companies are probably breathing a big sigh of relief right now," said Christy Hull Eikhoff, a media and defamation lawyer. She said the case "surprised a lot of media entities and lawyers who specialize in First Amendment jurisprudence," because it's "highly unusual for a public figure's defamation case to get as far as it did." Palin sued the newspaper and its former editorial page editor, James Bennet, over an editorial that falsely linked her to a 2011 mass shooting in Tucson.
Judge Jed Rakoff said Palin failed to prove that the paper acted with "actual malice," toward her — the standard the Supreme Court established in the landmark case New York Times v. Sullivan. Rakoff said Bennet took actions to check the article before it was published. The judge’s rationale "follows both the letter of the law and current precedent for the burden of proof and actual malice, reiterating how high a burden it is, and an earlier dismissal," said Roy Gutterman, professor at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School and director of the Tully Center for Free Speech. The judge took the unusual step of throwing out the case while the jury — unaware of his decision — was still deliberating. He said he would allow the jury to keep deliberating so that its verdict can be part of the record when the case is appealed. The litigation will likely keep going for months during the appeal. Palin has suggested she wants to challenge the "actual malice" standard — which would have to go all the way to the Supreme Court.