NEW YORK (Reuters) – A federal appeals court on Tuesday revived former U.S. vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s defamation lawsuit against the New York Times, over an editorial that she said maliciously linked her to the 2011 mass shooting that wounded U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords.
Former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin speaks while campaigning for U.S. Senate candidate Judge Roy Moore at the Historic Union Station Train Shed in Montgomery, Alabama, U.S., September 21, 2017. REUTERS/Tami Chappell
In a 3-0 decision, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said the lower court judge who dismissed the complaint erred in hearing testimony from the Times’ editorial page editor before issuing the dismissal.
Circuit Judge John Walker also said Palin had plausibly alleged that the Times defamed her, though she still bore the “high” burden of showing that the newspaper acted with “actual malice” when publishing the editorial.
“We are disappointed in the decision and intend to continue to defend the action vigorously,” Times spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha said in an email.
Lawyers for Palin did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Palin was Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s running mate in 2008, and also served as Alaska’s governor.
The lawsuit arose from a June 14, 2017 editorial discussing a shooting that day at an Alexandria, Virginia baseball field that injured four people, including Republican Representative Steve Scalise.
That editorial said that prior to the January 2011 Arizona shooting by Jared Lee Loughner of Giffords and others, where six people died, Palin’s political action committee had circulated a map that “put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized crosshairs.”
The Times later corrected the editorial, saying there was no link between “political rhetoric” and the Giffords shooting, and clarifying that the map depicted individual electoral districts, not specific Democratic lawmakers.
In dismissing the case in August 2017, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff said the editorial “included a few factual inaccuracies somewhat pertaining to Mrs. Palin that are very rapidly corrected. Negligence this may be; but defamation of a public figure it plainly is not.”
But in Tuesday’s decision, Walker said Rakoff had improperly relied on testimony from James Bennet, the Times’ editorial page editor and author of the editorial, from an unusual evidentiary hearing.
Bennet said he had not intended to blame Palin for the Giffords shooting, or extensively reviewed prior coverage that indicated no connection between Palin or her PAC and Loughner, but was simply making a point about the political environment.
Walker, however, said Rakoff should have relied solely on the legal papers, rather than hear from Bennet to help decide faster whether Palin might establish actual malice.
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Steve Orlofsky and Susan Thomas