by Timothy Sandefur
Jacob Sullum at Reason magazine has a brief post here on the libel suit filed by millionaire developer H. Walker Royall against Carla Main, the author of the excellent book Bulldozed (available from Amazon, B&N, and from the publisher, Encounter books).
Everyone should read Bulldozed, as it is an excellent book on an issue of major public importance. It would make an excellent stocking stuffer for that liberty-minded friend or family member!
Under the First Amendment, a person who is a “public figure” is not allowed to use libel lawsuits to silence criticism. That’s from the famous Supreme Court decision of New York Times v. Sullivan. Even when you say something that isn’t exactly true about a public figure, that person is not allowed to sue, because the First Amendment protects robust, even abusive, public debate. And a “public figure,” as the Court explained in the case of Gertz v. Robert Welch, includes even private citizens who voluntarily inject themselves into matters of public controversy—including people who decide to participate in controversial redevelopment projects that involve using eminent domain to steal other people’s land. For such persons to try to stifle public criticism of their actions by filing libel lawsuits—including lawsuits against people who simply recommend that the public read a book!—is a clear abuse of the court system and a violation of the First Amendment.