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This is the 50th anniversary of a watershed year in the history of the civil rights movement. During that year, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference mounted its anti-segregation campaign in Alabama; Commissioner "Bull" Connor turned dogs and fire hoses on demonstrators; activists were attacked; riots flared; George Wallace blocked the doors of a public university to keep black students out; President Kennedy dispatched troops to Alabama and called for the passage of a civil rights bill; Medgar Evers was murdered; the then-largest human rights demonstration in U.S. history converged on Washington; Martin Luther King Jr. gave his historic speech at the Lincoln Memorial; four black schoolgirls died when a Birmingham church was bombed; and Lyndon Johnson took up the cause of civil rights legislation after Kennedy's assassination on November 22.

Hard on the heels of these events, the Supreme Court decided one of its most celebrated and significant cases: New York Times Co. v. Sullivan. In a sense, Sullivan participated in and advanced the civil rights movement, vindicating the free speech rights of some of that movement's leaders. But, beyond this specific context, Sullivan had a profound effect on the shape of American jurisprudence. It changed announced, the reasoning it followed, and the lines of analysis it chose not to pursue. That is where the puzzles of Sullivan reside-and the lessons of Sullivan along with them.

With this background in mind, let's turn to our three curious aspects of the Sullivan decision.


2013, Published in Communications Lawyer 29, no. 3, Spring (2013), by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association