The constitutionalization of defamation law in 1964 created a revolution in first amendment jurisprudence. The United States Supreme Court established protection for statements concerning public officials unless the statements were made with actual malice, i.e., knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard of truth or falsity. Later, the Court extended much of that protection to statements about public figures who are not government employees. Though the Court eventually narrowed the scope of its public figure doctrine, it never receded from the protection accorded to statements about public officials. The author of this Article contends that this distinction has eluded many state judges and that the less-protective public figure doctrine may be swallowing the public official doctrine in state court interpretations of the first amendment. An analysis of state court decisions with public educators as plaintiffs shows that many state court cases are misapplying public figure law to status determinations that are properly within the public official sphere.
Richard E. Johnson,
No More Teachers' Dirty Looks -- Now They Sue: Analysis of Plaintiff Status Determinations in Defamation Actions by Public Educators,
17 Fla. St. U. L. Rev.