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Montgomery police commissioner L.B. Sullivan's lower court victory against the New York Times did not stand. In a unanimous decision, the Court held that public officials could not succeed in libel actions simply because something was inaccurate. Instead, they had to demonstrate "actual malice" — a knowing and reckless disregard for the truth.

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Law Databases


FindLaw's Cases and Codes section contains provisions of state and federal law. It also contains a record of state and federal case law for trial and appellate courts. The site looks at the arguments made in New York Times v. Sullivan. It includes the full text of the court's opinion and concurrences along with a record of various filings and motions leading to the outcome of the case.

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Oyez.com provides a variety of resources on New York Times v. Sullivan, including links to case text, audio recordings, and references. It also provides a high-level overview of the central issue addressed by the case and the court's holding.

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Online Reference Resources

Bill of Rights Institute

Dedicated to "educating individuals about a free society," the Bill of Rights Institute offers a robust website with separate portals for students and educators. It provides questions about the case to assess reader comprehension.

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Encyclopedia of Alabama

Well-researched with helpful bibliographies, each Encyclopedia of Alabama entry is an effective jumping-off point for getting the facts of the case. Entries range from landmark court cases to influential jurists and legislators. The Encyclopedia aids in contextualizing New York Times v. Sullivan as part of Alabama history and provides implications of the decision for the state's future.

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Exploring Constitutional Conflicts

This site explores issues and controversies that surround the Constitution of the United States. Each entry includes a list of relevant SCOTUS cases as well as open-ended discussion questions.

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First Amendment Center

The Freedom Forum’s First Amendment Center houses articles on all First Amendment protections. The section on free speech looks at the issue in a variety of contexts, including K-12 and public college campuses, on the internet and in other media contexts.

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The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute

Stanford's MLK Institute examines the role of the case in the larger Civil Rights struggle in Alabama, specifically how the attention was focused on Birmingham's hidden racial disparities. This entry focuses on the events that led up to the case.

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MTSU First Amendment Project

Published by Middle Tennessee State University, the First Amendment Encyclopedia houses more than 1,500 articles on First Amendment topics, court cases, and history. This entry focuses on was considered libel in 1961 and after New York Times v. Sullivan.

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Archival Resources

Library of Congress

A hard copy of the opinion can be found in U.S. Reports Volume 376. The Library of Congress has a PDF from one of these reporters. This is an excellent resource for classrooms engaged in primary document research.

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Visit an Alabama Museum!

Alabama Department of Archives and History