Supreme Court rules in Gertz favor

Local attorney wins appeal with supreme court

Gertz V. Robert Welch Inc.

Accused killer, Chicago police officer Richard Nuccio, was convicted of murdering Ronald Nelson. The death of the Nelson boy, led to the family hiring attorney, Elmer Gertz to sue Nuccio. As Gertz was prosecuting the case, Respondent Robert Welch, Inc., the owner of several publications with the legal name of John Birch Society, published an article in a magazine called American Opinion. In this article a large quantity of negative statements were specifically directed at Gertz, and accused him of framing the officer and having Communist motivations. The article refers to him as a "Leninist" and a "Communist-fronter" because he chose to represent clients suing a law enforcement officer. During this era, the people wanted to believe that law enforcement officers were good officials and had good intentions, so when somebody testified against them it led to disruption in some parts of the public. Because of this public sentiment some of the people tried to attack Gertz's character. After seeing all the constant communist terminology and references, Gertz filed a defamation suit against Robert Welch Inc., which was the legal owner of the publication of the magazine. Gertz lost his first libel case because a lower court didn't find that the magazine had violated the actual malice test for libel which Supreme Court had established in a earlier case in 1964 of New York Times v. Sullivan. But Gertz didn't stop there and eventually the case was taken to the Supreme Court. June 25th,1974 the Court reversed the lower court decision and stated that Gertz rights had indeed been violated in many ways. Justice Powell argued that Gertz was not a public figure or official so the standard of the New York v. Sullivan case was not appropriate for the situation of the Gertz v. Welch case. So with the determination of Gertz not being a public figure for purposes of this case, they accepted the fact that he had not voluntarily pushed his way into the center of attention and he was merely doing his job as an attorney.

In the process of it all Justice Powell and the Court came to the conclusion that the First Amendment does provide protection to the normal citizen from libelous statements differently than those in the public eye such as celebrities, public officials, and ect. But actual malice standards didn't lose all of their significance involving normal citizens.

First Amendment Rights

Resources of Research