Samantha Barbas

Document Type



This essay, delivered to the Law Library of Congress as the 2023 Constitution Day Lecture, tells the story of New York Times v. Sullivan, widely regarded as one the most important First Amendment decisions of all time. It is a decision that has profoundly affected the workings of the press and shaped the contours of public discourse in the United States. And it is a decision that continues to raise controversy because of the broad protections it gives to freedom of speech at the expense of other rights such as reputation and privacy. The essay summarizes the author’s work and archival research in her book, Actual Malice: Civil Rights and Freedom of the Press in New York Times v. Sullivan (2023). It tells the story of the case and the real people behind it. It tells how free speech law was made in the twentieth century and how the making of free speech law was intertwined with the civil rights movement. For the civil rights movement of the 1960s was an engine of constitutional change not only in the area of the Fourteenth Amendment, but also the First Amendment. The American system of freedom of expression became exceptional, truly unique in the world in its broad protections for criticism, protest, and dissent.