Literature Study GuidesNew York Times V Sullivan

New York Times v. Sullivan | Study Guide

United States Supreme Court

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Course Hero. "New York Times v. Sullivan Study Guide." December 21, 2018. Accessed May 28, 2020.


Course Hero, "New York Times v. Sullivan Study Guide," December 21, 2018, accessed May 28, 2020,



United States Supreme Court

Year Decided



Primary Source


U.S. Supreme Court Case

At a Glance

  • Martin Luther King Jr., a minister from Montgomery, Alabama, and one of the leaders in the nonviolent struggle for civil rights, was facing felony charges of perjury related to income tax returns. The charges are widely understood to have been part of a strategy by authorities wishing to cripple the civil rights movement.
  • In March 1960 the Committee to Defend Martin Luther King and the Struggle for Freedom in the South published an advertisement in the New York Times. It described the violence King and other activists endured at the hands of the authorities. Montgomery police commissioner L. B. Sullivan sued the newspaper for libel.
  • Although he was not mentioned in the advertisement, Sullivan claimed that information in it was false and damaging to his reputation. After he won his case in Alabama, the New York Times appealed the decision.
  • In 1964 the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which unanimously reversed the Alabama courts' rulings, citing unrestricted public debate as a principle of American democracy.
  • The decision strengthened the 1st Amendment rights of freedom of speech and the press. It was a victory for the civil rights movement, which depended on these freedoms to function.
  • Today, a libel suit for criticizing a public figure is no longer an effective means of silencing opposition.


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