Judge says he will throw out Sarah Palin's libel suit against New York Times

A federal judge said Monday he will dismiss the libel lawsuit filed by Sarah Palin against the New York Times because lawyers for the former Alaska governor failed to produce evidence that the newspaper knew that what it wrote about her in a 2017 editorial was false or defamatory.

The announcement by U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff came as a Manhattan jury was deliberating the closely watched case. Rakoff said Palin had failed to show that the Times had acted out of malice, something required in libel lawsuits involving public figures.

The judge said he will let jury deliberations continue before formally issuing his ruling in case the decision winds up being reversed on appeal. Rakoff said he expects an appeal in the case.

"It is very surprising," Palin told reporters after leaving the courthouse Monday. "For a judge to usurp the jury's decision that we don't even know is pretty rare."

The jurors left Monday afternoon without reaching a verdict and are expected to return Tuesday morning.

Sarah Palin
Sarah Palin arriving at the federal courthouse in Manhattan on Monday. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

Palin’s suit revolved around a 2017 editorial that incorrectly claimed the former vice presidential candidate’s political action committee was involved in inciting a 2011 shooting in Arizona that severely wounded Rep. Gabby Giffords and left six others dead.

The paper eventually added a correction, saying the editorial “incorrectly stated that a link existed between political rhetoric and the 2011 shooting.”

“In fact, no such link was established,” the correction read. “The editorial also incorrectly described a map distributed by a political action committee before that shooting. It depicted electoral districts, not individual Democratic lawmakers, beneath stylized cross hairs.”

While the Times erred, Palin’s legal team needed to prove that the paper knew it was publishing an inaccuracy ahead of time. That standard, known as “actual malice,” was established in the 1964 Supreme Court case New York Times Co. v. Sullivan. The case, in which the commissioner of the Montgomery, Ala., police department sued the New York Times and supporters of Martin Luther King Jr., is seen as a landmark in First Amendment protections.

Sarah Palin looks on as U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff instructs the jury
In a courtroom sketch, Palin looks on as U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff instructs the jury as they begin deliberations on Friday. (Jane Rosenberg/Reuters)

Despite the ruling, the judge was critical of the newspaper for publishing the editorial.

“This is an example of very unfortunate editorializing on the part of the Times,” Rakoff said Monday, according to the Daily Beast, adding that he was “not at all happy” to rule in the newspaper’s favor.

The trial was initially delayed after Palin tested positive for COVID-19, although that did not stop her from dining out in New York City multiple times despite being unvaccinated.

Palin leaped to national prominence in 2008 when she was selected by John McCain as his running mate on the Republican presidential ticket. After losing that fall, she stepped down as governor in July 2009, serving as a political commentator and participating in a number of reality shows in the years since.

Sarah Palin
Palin in Manhattan on Monday. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)