The Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from National Review in a defamation case against the conservative media outlet.
The case stems from a seven-year-old lawsuit against National Review after two of its columnists wrote a 2012 op-ed criticizing climate scientist Michael Mann’s findings on climate change and called his “Hockey Stick” graph, which tracked the rise in global temperatures over thousands of years, “deceptive.”
National Review alleged that Mann’s evidence was “fraudulent” and challenged the methods he used to reach his conclusions.
Mann filed a defamation a lawsuit against the magazine which had been making its way through the lower courts, but National Review asked the Supreme Court to take up the case.
In a statement to CNN, Mann said he is “pleased with this nearly unanimous decision by the Supreme Court to deny the appeal.”
National Review’s editors published an op-ed expressing their disappointment with the high court’s decision, “We are disappointed that the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to take up our appeal in the case of National Review Inc. v. Michael E. Mann.”
They continue to say that “two of the core guarantees that undergird American life” are at stake in the defamation case.
“At stake, in this case, are nothing less than two of the core guarantees that undergird American life. The first is the promise that all people may engage in robust political debate without fear of retribution from the sensitive and the malicious. The second is the promise that when legal disputes do arise, they will be resolved in a timely manner — before, not after, the targeted party has been bled of precious time and resources.”
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito wrote a lone dissenting opinion arguing that if the court is “serious” about protecting freedom of speech, it should hear the case.
“If the Court is serious about protecting freedom of expression, we should grant review.”
He continued to say that the case could have ramifications for freedom of speech, saying the case poses the question of “whether the First Amendment permits defamation liability for expressing a subjective opinion about a matter of scientific or political controversy.”
Alito listed a series of cases the court heard that “made no great contribution to the public debate,” and argued that if the Supreme Court was “deadly serious” about protecting free speech, it would take up the case.
“It can demonstrate that this Court is deadly serious about protecting freedom of speech. Our decisions protecting the speech at issue in that case and the others just noted can serve as a promise that we will be vigilant when the freedom of speech and the press are most seriously implicated, that is, in cases involving disfavored speech on important political or social issues.”
Finally, Alito noted that even if journalists win defamation cases, they still have to shoulder the burden of the costs of legal fees, which might “deter the uninhibited expression of views that would contribute to healthy public debate.”