Why Can’t Cruz Sue Trump for Defamation?

As the political campaigns continue to heat up and opponents volley insults back and forth, some may wonder why those seeking the presidential nominations for their party aren’t involving New York personal injury attorneys into the fray. I mean, presidential campaigns get dirty and with all of that badmouthing and swagger, there’s bound to be some libel and slander, right? Plenty of stump speeches and debate monologues can sound pretty slanderous as one candidate tries to debunk another. And how about those campaign ads? Shouldn’t some of them be considered libelous?

While some of the things politicians say about each other or what journalists publish about candidates might be cause for a defamation suit if the target was an ordinary civilian not running for elective office, it doesn’t qualify for defamation under personal injury law.

Why is that? I mean, isn’t challenging someone’s right to run for president because of where they were born, saying they aren’t a citizen, or demeaning or misrepresenting another candidate’s record or values harmful to their reputation? Wouldn’t that qualify those speeches, comments, and campaign ads as defamation?

Not quite. Thanks to New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, politicians and other public figures are held to a different standard when it comes to defamation under personal injury law. While mudslinging can certainly harm a candidate’s reputation and hinder his chances of job procurement—i.e. election—the court must decide that something called “actual malice” has occurred. In Cruz v. Trump, this would mean that a jury would need to find that Donald Trump knowingly said false things, or said false things not caring whether they were true or not. Plus, rather than the typical preponderance of evidence that is needed in other civil cases, a jury would need to be convinced by “clear and convincing evidence.” This is a higher burden of proof than a “preponderance of evidence”, but still less than what is needed in criminal court to prove a defendant guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Basically, there’s a higher standard of defamation that a politician must meet if he wants to claim someone is defaming his name. Which makes sense if you consider that defamation law might’ve been used as a way to dissuade people from disagreeing or arguing with public figures. Having to prove actual malice reduces the number of likely cases that make it to court and allows people to criticize politicians and public figures without fear of retaliation.

Thankfully, most of us don’t have to meet that higher standard to find justice when someone has sullied our good name. If we have proof of slander or a copy of libelous literature or photographs, we are lucky that can enlist the services of a trustworthy New York personal injury attorney to help protect our reputations and seek damages. If your professional reputation has been injured by a rumor or verbal attack, it is important to seek help from a New York personal injury attorney as soon as possible. Defamation cases have a statute of limitation of one year. Consulting with a New York personal injury lawyer will help you determine whether you have a case and help you move forward to fix your good name.