FAN 118.1 (First Amendment News) Seasoned SCOTUS Appellate Lawyer Files Cert. Petition in “Public Official” Defamation Case

Here is what Tony Mauro once said of him: “Few lawyers — including the nine lawyers who wear robes to work — know the Supreme Court’s docket as well as” he does. “He is generally regarded,” observed Georgetown Law Professor Steven Goldblatt,  “as one of the best [Supreme Court lawyers] in the country.”

Roy T. Englert, Jr.

Roy T. Englert, Jr.

His name: Roy T. Englert, Jr. That name is known among those seasoned few in the Supreme Court Bar. He has argued 21 cases before the Court, including United States Department of Justice v. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (1989), a Freedom of Information Act case concerning privacy exemption. He won, this while he was Assistant to the Solicitor General.

Later, when he was at Mayer, Brown & Platt, he filed an amicus brief in United States v. Eichman (1990) (First Amendment challenge to Flag Protection Act of 1989)), this on behalf of Senator Joesph Biden, Jr. and in support of the Petitioner. There is, of course, more, much more.

One of Mr. Englert’s latest cert. filings is in Armstrong v. Thompson, submitted earlier this month. The issue in the case is whether all (or nearly all) law enforcement officers are “public officials” under New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964). Here is how his cert. petition opens:

“This case presents a recurring First Amendment question: whether a garden-variety law enforcement officer, with little or no role in setting public policy, must establish ‘actual malice’ to recover for harm caused by tortious statements. A number of Circuits and state courts of last resort—where many issues relating to the First Amendment and defamation are decided—have held that every law enforcement officer is a ‘public official’ under New York Times Co. v. Sullivan. Accordingly, those courts, including the court below, require each and every law enforcement officer to show ‘actual malice’ before recovering for any tort carried out through speech. In this case, despite an otherwise-error-free trial resulting in a jury verdict establishing that respondent had committed an established common-law tort, the court of appeals joined those courts and reversed on federal constitutional grounds after determining that Armstrong was a public official and that he had failed to prove ‘actual malice.'”

 Later, he argues that the “Court has . . . never determined how far down the government ranks the ‘actual malice’ standard applies. It has, however, unequivocally stated that not every public employee is a ‘public official.’ Hutchinson v. Proxmire, 443 U.S. 111, 119 n.8 (1979). And it has made clear that the category ought to be limited to ‘those among the hierarchy of government employees who have, or appear to the public to have, substantial responsibility for or control over the conduct of governmental affairs.’ Rosenblatt v. Baer, 383 U.S. 75, 86 (1966); accord Gertz, 418 U.S. at 345 (equating ‘public official’ with someone who has “accepted public office’).”

Furthermore, Mr. Englert maintains that a “number of state courts have taken heed and held that low-ranking law enforcement officers are not public officials for purposes of the First Amendment. Kiesau v. Bantz (Iowa 2004); McCusker v. Valley News (N.H. 1981); Tucker v. Kilgore (Ky. 1964). Nevertheless, until 2013, there was an ‘overwhelming and entirely one-sided’ consensus among federal courts of appeals (as well as a number of other state courts) that ‘police officers are public officials for defamation purposes’—regardless of rank or role—because ‘there is a strong societal interest in protecting expression that criticizes law enforcement officers.’ Young, 734 F.3d at 553-54 (Moore, J. dissenting). In 2013, the Sixth Circuit stated (albeit in dicta) that courts holding the ‘consensus’ view ‘have misinterpreted federal law on the issue.’ Id. at 549 (opinion of the court). . . .”

“Certain state courts,” he notes, “have developed their own idiosyncratic, fact-based inquiries into whether police officers are public officials. . . .”

“Finally, there are courts that have (correctly) determined that there is nothing talismanic about the designation of ‘law enforcement.’ These courts have applied to ‘law enforcement’ employees the same rule that they would to any other government employee.” . . . . “

In light ion the above, Mr. Englert urged the Justices to “establish a clear rule that low-level law officers are not ‘public officials.'”

Other counsel for the Petitioner are: Lanora C. Pettit and Peter B. Siegal.

The time for filing on a response is on or before September 6, 2016.

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