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Justices agree to hear technical bankruptcy case but won’t reconsider pillar of defamation law

At last Thursday’s conference, the justices considered several high-profile petitions for review, involving issues like New York’s vaccine mandate for health-care workers, whether to overrule the court’s landmark decision in New York Times v. Sullivan, and whether to take up a redistricting case from North Carolina that could upend federal elections. But on Monday, the justices added only one case, involving courts’ power over bankruptcy disputes, to their docket for the 2022-23 term. They did not act on two of the high-profile petitions that they considered, and they turned down the third, over a dissent by Justice Clarence Thomas.

The justices agreed to hear oral argument next term in MOAC Mall Holdings v. Transform Holdco LLC, a case arising from the bankruptcy of former retail giant Sears Roebuck and efforts by the company that acquired many of Sears’ assets to take over the store’s $10/year lease in Minnesota’s Mall of America. The question that the court will decide is whether a provision of federal bankruptcy law limits the power of the courts of appeals over the order approving the sale of Sears’ assets or instead simply limits the remedies available on appeal from such an order.

The justices denied review in Coral Ridge Ministries Media v. Southern Poverty Law Center, a defamation lawsuit brought against the SPLC after it designated Coral Ridge, an evangelical Christian group, an “Anti-LGBT hate group” because – among other things – the group describes homosexuality as “lawless,” “an abomination,” and “against nature.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit applied the “actual malice” standard outlined in New York Times v. Sullivan, which requires a public figure to prove that a defamatory statement was made “with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.” The court of appeals concluded that Coral Ridge could not meet that test, because it had not shown that the SPLC had doubts about whether the designation was accurate or that the SPLC was “highly aware” that the designation was false.

Coral Ridge came to the Supreme Court late last year, asking the justices to either reconsider the “actual malice” standard or, at the very least, limit it to public officials. But the justices on Monday turned down that request.

In a three-page opinion, Thomas indicated that he would have granted Coral Ridge’s request to reconsider the “actual malice” standard. Quoting his concurring opinion from the denial of review in a 2019 defamation case brought by a woman who had accused comedian Bill Cosby of raping her, Thomas explained that “New York Times and the Court’s decisions extending it were policy-driven decisions masquerading as constitutional law.” Coral Ridge’s case, he continued, “is one of many showing how New York Times and its progeny have allowed media organizations and interest groups ‘to cast false aspersions on public figures with near impunity.’”

The justices did not act on Dr. A v. Hochul, the challenge to New York’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health-care workers, or Moore v. Harper, a dispute in which Republican legislators from North Carolina have asked the justices to weigh in on the “independent state legislature” theory – the idea that, under the Constitution, only the legislature has the power to regulate federal elections, without interference from state courts. The justices considered both of those cases for the second time on Thursday.

Thursday, June 23, was the final conference on the justices’ schedule before their summer recess, but the court traditionally issues one additional set of orders after it has released all of the opinions for the term, so – depending on when that is – the court could still act on Dr. A and Moore later this week or early next week.

This article was originally published at Howe on the Court.

Recommended Citation: Amy Howe, Justices agree to hear technical bankruptcy case but won’t reconsider pillar of defamation law, SCOTUSblog (Jun. 27, 2022, 4:24 PM),