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Thomas sounds alarm over hate group designation for anti-LGBT church

The conservative justice objected alone Monday as the court turned down an opportunity to reexamine nearly 60-year-old libel precedent.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Justice Clarence Thomas urged the high court Monday to reconsider a key precedent governing media libel suits. 

The solitary dissent appeared in connection with an order list this morning where Coral Ridge Ministries Media was turned down along with dozens of other petitioners vying for a Supreme Court audience.

Coral Ridge claims its religious views are the reason it “opposes homosexual conduct,” and the Florida evangelical Christian ministry sued for libel after the Southern Poverty Law Center designated it as an anti-LGBT hate group. Claiming to have suffered actual harm, Coral Ridge says the designation is the reason that Amazon denied its application to fundraise as a charitable organization through AmazonSmile. 

An Alabama federal judge dismissed the suit in 2019; the 11th Circuit upheld that ruling in July of 2021; and the case came to the end of the road at the Supreme Court on Monday.

Typically, the court does not explain its rationale for denying a writ of certiorari, and this case proved no exception. For Thomas, however, the case is a prime example of why the court needs to reconsider its standard on “actual malice” as set out in the court’s famous decision in New York Times v. Sullivan. Thomas says the line was drawn on “policy-driven decisions masquerading as constitutional law” and has no basis in the text, history, or structure of the Constitution. 

“This case 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,’” Thomas wrote. 

Claiming the standard is “almost impossible” to meet, Thomas said the court should not protect lies from libel suits. 

“Because the Court should not ‘insulate those who perpetrate lies from traditional remedies like libel suits’ unless ‘the First Amendment requires’ us to do so, I respectfully dissent from the denial of certiorari,” Thomas wrote. 

A bankruptcy case involving the department store Sears was the only one granted a writ of certiorari in Monday’s order list.

Sears’ former CEO, Eddie Lampert, formed Transform Holdco after Sears filed for bankruptcy. In 2019, a bankruptcy court approved the sale of a large portion of Sears’ assets to Transform under a provision of the Bankruptcy Code allowing debtors to sell property outside of the ordinary course of business. Following the sale, Sears and Transform notified the bankruptcy court that they wanted to transfer a longtime lease Sears had with Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota.

The parent company for the mall objected, however, arguing that Transform was a non-retail entity that just wanted to sublease the space. MOAC was overruled but appealed to the district court, which ruled in their favor. Following a rehearing, the district court vacated its initial order and dismissed the appeal. The Second Circuit affirmed. 

The case will now be heard by the high court to decide if provisions within the Bankruptcy Code limit court’s jurisdiction over sale orders. 

Categories:Appeals, Civil Rights, Politics

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