Hornback goes for ‘glorious’ libel defense

An old college textbook I have kicking around refers to truth as the “glorious defense” in libel suits. If so, Brian Hornback is going for the glory.
The conservative blogger produced four affidavits this week from Republicans swearing that Knox County GOP Chair Ruthie Kuhlman really did say disparaging things about some of her fellow Republicans.

Brian Hornback

Brian Hornback

Hornback had accused Kuhlman on his blog of doing this dissing, and she responded by suing him for libel, seeking $100,000 in compensation for emotional distress.
The lawsuit was a long shot from the start. Kuhlman had acknowledged right off the bat that she was a public figure, meaning the suit would be judged by the standards of the New York Times v. Sullivan decision.
In 1960, that newspaper published an ad signed by civil rights advocates raising money to defend Martin Luther King Jr. The ad accused Alabama authorities of a “wave of terror,” and a few facts were misstated, such as the number of times King had been arrested. Montgomery Commissioner L.B. Sullivan sued for libel and won a $500,000 verdict in Alabama.
But in March 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the verdict on First Amendment grounds, and Justice William Brennan drafted the landmark decision. It stated that, even if falsehoods were published about public figures, they could not recover damages unless they could also prove “actual malice.” In other words, officials had to show that a publisher knew a statement was false before publication, or acted with “reckless disregard” for its truth or falsity.
That standard makes it very hard for public figures to ever win libel actions. But if Hornback can convince the judge that the statements he made were true, then it doesn’t matter whether Kuhlman is a public figure or not. Truth is an absolute defense against libel in America, even if the truth hurts.