DALLAS (CN) - Blaming "dishonest" newspapers for "negative and horrible articles" about him, Donald Trump told a Texas crowd this weekend that he would "open up our libel laws" so he could sue newspapers "and win lots of money."
"I am going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles so we can sue them and win lots of money," Trump told a crowd of supporters in Fort Worth on Friday.
"We are going to open up those libel laws so when The New York Times writes a hit piece - which is a total disgrace - or when The Washington Post - which is there for other reasons - writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they're protected."
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1964 in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, that to prove defamation, public figures - people who thrust themselves into the public eye - must show the statements were published despite knowledge of their falsity, or with reckless disregard.
Montgomery Public Safety Commissioner L.B. Sullivan claimed that a paid ad in the Times defamed him with false statements about Montgomery police actions against civil rights protesters. Sullivan won a $500,000 judgment in state court, but the Supreme Court ruled, unanimously, that the standard for public figures was necessary to preserve vigorous debate about subjects of public importance.
Although Trump could not override Times v. Sullivan, he would be able to appoint justices to the Supreme Court, if he wins the Republican nomination and the presidential election.
"We are going to have people sue you like you have never been sued before," Trump told the crowd.
The late Justice Antonin Scalia hedged on the Times v. Sullivan ruling in a 2011 speech. Republican senators have vowed not to call a hearing on any nominee President Obama chooses to replace Scalia.
In his speech at the Aspen Institute 2011 Washington Ideas Forum at the Newseum, Scalia said: "Now, the old libel law used to be (that) you're responsible, you say something false that harms somebody's reputation, we don't care if it was told to you by nine bishops, you are liable.
"New York Times v. Sullivan just cast that aside because the court thought in modern society, it'd be a good idea if the press could say a lot of stuff about public figures without having to worry. And that may be correct, that may be right, but if it was right it should have been adopted by the people. It should have been debated in the New York Legislature and the New York Legislature could have said, 'Yes, we're going to change our libel law.' But the living constitutionalists on the Supreme Court, the Warren Court, simply decided, 'Yes, it used to be that ... George Washington could sue somebody that libeled him, but we don't think that's a good idea anymore.'"
Trump's threat to "open up" libel laws was quickly overshadowed by his refusal to disavow an endorsement from white supremacist and former Klan leader David Duke. When criticized even by fellow Republicans for that, Trump backpedaled on Sunday, saying he didn't know who Duke was, then sent a Tweet saying "I disavow."