NEW YORK — A defamation lawsuit Sarah Palin brought against The New York Times was restored by a federal appeals court Tuesday, giving the onetime Republican vice presidential nominee an opportunity to prove her claims that the newspaper falsely accused her of inciting a mass shooting that severely wounded a congresswoman.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said a lower court judge tossed out the lawsuit too quickly without giving her a chance to obtain email records and other evidence that might aid her lawyers.
Still, the decision by a three-judge panel said Palin’s burden of proof was high to prove that the newspaper acted with actual malice when it published an editorial in 2017 titled “America’s Lethal Politics.”
The Manhattan judges, in an opinion written by Circuit Judge John M. Walker Jr., said they took no position on the merits of Palin’s claim, but were concerned with the process lower court judges follow in evaluating lawsuits.
“Nothing in this opinion should therefore be construed to cast doubt on the First Amendment’s crucial constitutional protections,” the 2nd Circuit said. It said it recognized that “First Amendment protections are essential to provide ‘breathing space’ for freedom of expression.”
Palin sued the Times for unspecified damages after the editorial about gun control was published following the June 2017 shooting of Louisiana U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, also a Republican, on a baseball diamond in Washington.
In the editorial, the Times wrote that before the 2011 shooting of then-Arizona U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, Palin’s political action committee circulated a map of targeted electoral districts that put Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized crosshairs.
The editorial was criticized by some readers who challenged the notion that the map constituted “political incitement” or that there was any “link” between it and the Arizona shooting, the Times lawyers have said.
The Times lawyers have said the newspaper revised the online version of the editorial the following morning to remove those references and to make clear that the crosshairs on the map appeared over Giffords’ district rather than over her name or image.
After Tuesday’s ruling, Times spokesperson Danielle Rhoades Ha said in an emailed statement: “We are disappointed in the decision and intend to continue to defend the action vigorously.”
In a joint statement, Palin attorneys Kenneth G. Turkel and Libby Locke said: “This is — and has always been — a case about media accountability. We are pleased with the Court’s decision, and we look forward to starting discovery and ultimately proceeding to trial.”