History: Who was LB Sullivan?

Sullivan v. Times was one of the most influential of cases when it came to the rules and laws about libel of a public official. In 1960, a one page ad in the New York Times was bought and put in an article called “Heed Their Rising Voices”. This ad called for action in the protection of the blacks in the south and of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Within the ad, it accused the police of wrongfully using the law and also was incorrect in their information within the ad. Lester Bruce Sullivan, one of three Commissioners of Montgomery, Alabama, at that time, sued the newspaper for libel and slander. While the two lower courts of Alabama awarded Sullivan the win, the newspaper appealed the case, and it went before the Supreme Court. After many years, the case was finally decided in 1964. The Supreme Court ruled that the newspaper was protected under the First Amendment as well as that public officials, when suing for libel, must prove actual malice. Since Sullivan could not prove actual malice, his case fell through and the Supreme Court was unanimous in awarding the newspaper the win. Today, the same rules are used when looking at libel and public officials.


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