Donald Trump

Judge Dismisses Libel Lawsuit against Donald Trump

The beauty of the First Amendment is that it even protects people who wouldn't protect it.


Gage Skidmore

A New York judge accepted Donald Trump's motion to dismiss a libel lawsuit brought against him by Cheryl Jacobus, a political strategist Trump said on Twitter had "begged" him for a job and was only criticizing him because she was rebuffed.

The Hollywood Reporter, which first reported the dismissal and which posted the decision on its website, noted that "Donald Trump says he wants to 'open up' libel laws but a few days before he becomes the next President of the United States, he became fortunate that such laws place high burdens on plaintiffs."

In siding with Trump, New York Supreme Court Judge Barbara Jaffe characterized his tweet as an opinion, and noted his habit of using Twitter as such.

"His tweets about his critics, necessarily restricted to 140 characters or less, are rife with vague and simplistic insults such as 'loser' or 'total loser' or 'totally biased loser,' 'dummy' or 'dope' or 'dumb,' 'zero/no credibility,' 'crazy' or 'wacko' and 'disaster,' all deflecting serious consideration," Jaffe wrote.

The judge ruled that while Trump's use of Twitter as a campaign tool might make it different from the kind of heated statements courts have previously decided "constitute communications that cannot be taken seriously," reasonable readers should understand Trump was using the social media platform to express his "opinion, even if some of the statements, viewed in isolation, could be found to convey facts." This, she decided, was consistent with precedent and "the spirit of the First Amendment." So while the judge found the tweets were "intended to belittle and demean," she ruled that a reasonable readings would preclude concluding that those tweets could somehow "damage [Jacobus'] reputation as a partisan political consultant and commentator."

The ruling also cited an article by David Danford in The Federalist, "Why Donald Trump's Constant Twitter Battle is a Brilliant Media Strategy," and Danford's suggestion that "Trump's seemingly off-the-cuff and thoughtless tweets are no small part" of a "fascinating display of political skill." The judge said Trump's Twitter use raised "some concern that some may avoid liability by conveying positions in small Twitter parcels, as opposed to by doing so in a more formal and presumably actionable manner."

Trump and his team have continued to be fans of the idea of using libel laws and legal threats to silence opponents after the election. In November, Kellyanne Conway, Trump's campaign manager, suggested then outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) should be "very careful about characterizing someone in a legal sense." Reid had described Trump as "a sexual predator who lost the popular vote and fueled his campaign with bigotry and hate." When interviewer Chris Wallace asked Conway if she was suggesting the president-elect could sue Reid, she said no. "I'm calling for responsibility and maturity and decency [from] somebody who has held one of the highest positions in our government."

Related: Trump's Problem With Free Speech

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  1. “When interviewer Chris Wallace asked Conway if she was suggesting the president-elect could sue Trump”

    Hey, if Trump sues himself he’s bound to be a winner, whichever side wins. Of course, he’d also be on the losing side.

    1. Jesse Jackson approves this message.

      1. Let us be clear that our nation’s libel laws (and other related regulations that can be used to get around the so-called “restrictions” on libel suits) serve the fundamental purpose of defending the interests of well-connected members of our society. So we need to be straight about our priorities: no one should be allowed to subject our national leader to mockery or abuse, but he himself naturally has the perfect right to express his opinions about the lying press on Twitter. Surely no one here would dare to defend the unpresidented “First Amendment dissent” of a single, isolated judge in America’s leading criminal “satire” case? See the documentation at:

    2. It wouldn’t be an Ed piece without mangled sentences.

      1. He learned how to write at Columbia.

    3. Trump is such a winner, it’d be first lawsuit where both sides won decisively.

  2. Haven’t read the full opinion, so I’ll just go with the presumption the judge knew what she was talking about, but I would have thought that calling someone an embittered job-seeker, if they aren’t, would be libelous. Maybe there’s some fine print I haven’t seen.

    1. She’s basically saying that no reasonable person would take any Trump tweet seriously enough for it to be defamatory.

      Hard to argue, really.

    2. Oh, haven’t read it either, but from the excerpt above, it went off on “opinion v fact”, not “public figure”, so even under Trump’s loosening of defamation laws, she would have still lost.

  3. Tl; dr.

    Donald Trump is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.

    1. He’s honest, forthright, hardworking, composed, and generous to a fault.

      1. His hair style and tan are in absolutely no way ridiculous, he’s humble, respectful of women and has never mocked anyone.

        1. None of his classy big-league businesses has ever filed bankruptcy.

          1. He says what he means and means what he says.

    2. How about a nice game of solitaire?

  4. It’s like none of his enemies have read The Art of the Deal.

    1. I read like half of it during the campaign, what do you think are the key lessons he’s applying?

    2. I doubt Trump has actually read it.

      1. Didn’t Trump’s ghost writer come out and bash Trump? Something like that anyway…

  5. “His tweets about his critics, necessarily restricted to 140 characters or less, are rife with vague and simplistic insults such as ‘loser’ or ‘total loser’ or ‘totally biased loser,’ ‘dummy’ or ‘dope’ or ‘dumb,’ ‘zero/no credibility,’ ‘crazy’ or ‘wacko’ and ‘disaster,’ all deflecting serious consideration,” Jaffe wrote.

    She forgot ‘clown,’ ‘liar,’ ‘crooked’ and ‘big league [insert adjective here]’… It would’ve been great to have 90% of the opinion just be a list of insults Trump has leveled at random people on Twitter. But still, bonus points for including various phrases involving ‘loser’.

  6. Trump and his team have continued to be fans of the idea of using libel laws and legal threats to silence opponents after the election.

    This claim needs some indication that anyone has been silenced. The example is given is Harry Reid. Did he suddenly clam up about Trump after being warned by Conway?

  7. IANAL, but doesn’t this:
    Reid had described Trump as “a sexual predator who lost the popular vote and fueled his campaign with bigotry and hate.”
    actually constitute libel? It’s a fairly specific characterization that has not been proven to be a fact and was not stated as opinion. Or would Reid have had to say “I personally witnessed Trump sexually assault 5 women at a party two months ago.”?

    1. I think its borderline. “Sexual predator” can encompass a wide range of meanings, more than just “guilty of the crime of sexual assault.”

        1. Bill Shatner was a known pussy hound. You wouldn’t expect him to have been arrested for preying on the willingness of actresses and script girls and whatnot to lift their skirts for the Shat, would you?

          1. “Predator” could simply mean someone who engages in “pre-dates” – cutting to the chase before an actual date begins.

    2. I am sure someone left him a message at his office.

    3. Suing on that basis would open up discovery into some places Trump wouldn’t want to ever go.

      1. Exactly. Reid’s defense would consist of putting on an endless string of accusations that Trump grabbed somebody by the pussy.

        1. he would have to show that the woman that let it happen didnt mind the chance that she might marry a billoinaire…

          obviously you have no idea what kind of party he may have been at (neither do i)…
          hellfire? killing kittens? he never said…

          but if you think that women dont throw themselves at men with money, well, you have a whole new area of learning to work on…

          by the way… if you think women wouldnt try to take a billionaire for some money by doing something that would lead to a lawsuit, your also nutters..

      2. Bingo. Truth is an absolute defense to libel. So suing on that basis would open Trump up to being questioned about every interaction he has ever had with women. Moreover, calling someone a “predator” is likely opinion in this day and age. Someone somewhere considers virtually anything to be worthy of “predator” status. Trump would likely have no case even if he was willing to go through discovery.

    4. I don’t think being a sexual predator is always considered illegal and some would take as a compliment.

    5. maybe maybe not, but THIS does

      Harry Reid Relishes Romney Tax Lie: ‘He Didn’t Win, Did He?’…..x-returns/

      he knows that he can lie, and is proud of it and the law doesnt protect the famous that way
      that is not constituational technically… shall i point out which part?

      Outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday that he “did what was necessary” in 2012 when he falsely accused Mitt Romney of not having paid his taxes for 10 years.

      The caller asked Reid if he thought that “the brazen lie he told about Mitt Romney not pay his taxes has in anyway contributed to the fake news debate that we now find ourselves in.”

      “First of all, there were no brazen lies. What I said is the truth,” he maintained.
      “There’s no brazen lies. I did what was necessary,” he said a few moments later.

      [if true, where did he get the tax return illegally? which gave him second pause, and had to go back to lie, as that is ok to do to the famous, and stealing their tax returns is not]

      In September 2012, Romney released a notarized letter from his tax preparer showing that he paid state and federal income taxes for the previous 20 years. The lowest federal tax rate he incurred during that span was 13.66 percent, according to the documents he released.

      1. That’s protected by the Speech and Debate Clause. (i.e. Congressman can lie with impunity)

      2. Reid’s trick was pretty good.

        Slyly accuse Romney of not paying taxes.

        That gives Romney a choice. He can show his taxes, which Reid believes will damage him. Reid wins.
        He can refuse to show his taxes and sue Reid. Taxes come out in discovery process, which Reid believes will damage him. Even if Romney wins the legal case, Reid wins.
        He can refuse to show his taxes and do nothing. His silence comes across as an admission of guilt to many people. Reid wins.

        It was a pretty good trick. Romney’s only choices were how petty he wanted to be, and which option he felt would damage him the least.

  8. Did Jacobus approach the Trump campaign for a job?

  9. Wait, judges now cite partisan opinion articles in their rulings now?

  10. Trump wants to get rid of the judicially created NYT v. Sullivan standard of actual malice or reckless indifference for public officials. The decision in this case has nothing to do with Trump being a public figure or NYT v. Sullivan or really even the Constitution. The statement of opinion has never been considered libel.

    So Trump is not availing himself of any protections that he doesn’t support. The nature of Trump’s proposal and the fact that the public figure doctrine is hardly essential to the 1st Amendment has been explained on this board dozens of times. Yet, the staff continues to misstate Trump’s position.

    Ed, if you don’e feel confident talking about 1st Amendment and libel law, talk to your college Ken White. I am pretty sure he is a first amendment attorney. I seem to recall him mentioning that fact once or twice.

    1. Wait, Ken White of Popehat is a first amendment attorney?

      1. He is very shy about his credentials. So, i may be mistaken but I think he might have accidentally mentioned that once.

        1. Geez, obscure things you learn on this forum…

    2. Thanks, John.

      I’m getting a little tired of the equivalence being drawn between “reduce extraordinary burdens on public figures” and “gut the First Amendment”.

      I agree that Trump didn’t need the Sullivan standard to win this case, and so there’s no hypocrisy involved.

      1. This is not a complex issue. Libel law and NYT v. Sullivan are pretty straight forward legal issues. NYT v. Sullivan is one of the easier cases you read in Con law. Yet, Reason consistently fucks it up. Are they really that dense or are they being that dishonest?

        There is a defense to be made of NYT v. Sullivan. That defense is not, however, “oh my God we won’t have a 1st Amendment without it”, which is the only defense of it reason seems to be capable of making.

        1. “Are they really that dense or are they being that dishonest?”


  11. OK, it seems she and Trump’s people *did* discuss her getting a job, but she says it was the campaign’s idea to approach her and she withdrew from consideration when Lewandowski (sp?) was boorish and rude.

    Whereas Trump and Lewandowski (sp?) say she “begged” for a job and when she didn’t get it, responded by attacking Trump.

    If the plaintiff’s version of events is the correct one, then Trump made her look like a spurned job applicant, not like someone who turned down a job offer.

    Now, even if her version is true, her experience with the campaign may have affected her analysis, but not in the sense of “they didn’t want to hire me so I’ll retaliate.”

    1. I suspect that this whole idea of “it’s just an opinion” thing may be devised to keep the courts out of borderline cases, but that’s not what the judge said.

      That’s just my opinion, though.

    2. Begging is a relative term. Trump and Lewandowski’s characterization of her asking for a job as “begging” is an opinion and not libelous. As is their charge that that was why she was critical of the campaign. A statement of opinion no matter how baseless can’t be libel. To be libel, a statement must be objectively false and opinions can never be such.

      1. I get it, like I said, it’s just my opinion. 🙂

    3. Well, when you have a discussion about a job with someone that is more than two sentences long:

      “Hey, you want a job with us?”


      then you are having a discussion with someone about a job they are interested in to some degree. Calling them an “applicant” at that point might be a stretch, but not a huge one.

      1. Sure, but if she actually walked away from a job offer as opposed to getting turned down, then the “job applicant scorned” narrative becomes less plausible.

        1. I’m guessing that maybe this plaintiff is an unsympathetic figure because (a) she didn’t tell the news audience that she’d discussed a job with Trump, so the audience could draw its own conclusions, (b) she’s part of a political consultant class which, thanks to Trump’s election, has been shown to be more than usually full of BS.

          1. (or maybe she *did* tell her audience, who knows, I wouldn’t want to be sued)

        2. I’ll bet the application process with trump is hilarious if it is a woman.

          Trump says, “who’s next?”
          “is she a woman?”….pouts his lips…looks her up and down…if she is good looking, he turns on that door mat on the head charm.

          Seriously, is he not the epitome of “money can get any girl”? His eye brows are two feet long.

          1. He really is. But it is not like he is some isolated example. Women love power and money. it is funny as hell to see feminists and their male toadies try and pretend that really isn’t true.

  12. This is what we are down to.

    I weep for the future.

  13. Ed,
    This article was a bigly waste of my time. I enjoy all your other ones though.

  14. From the mind of Kellyanne Conway: “I find Harry Reid’s public comments and insults about Donald Trump and other Republicans to be beyond the pale. They’re incredibly disappointing. Talk about not wanting my children to listen to somebody… He should be very careful about characterizing somebody *in a legal sense*. He thinks — he thinks he’s just being some kind of political pundit there, but I would say be very careful about the way you characterize it.”

    If she didn’t mean it as a threat to start a lawsuit, why did she bring up “in a legal sense.” Good luck with that one, mrs. Conway! The gales of laughter at your boss’ expense would be awesome to behold.

    1. She meant it as a characterization of his statement as libelous. You can call something libel without suing you fucking half wit.

      1. I’m curious in what world “that’s libel, you know” isn’t a threat.

  15. Trump and his team have continued to be fans of the idea of using libel laws and legal threats to silence opponents after the election

    the author thinks that a judge would be part and parcel of such a nefarious plot!!!

    ie. if that is the real reason, then it falls short as the idea of shutting someone up in a public trial where everything is out in the open, is INANE

    basically what trump wants is to remove the idea that you can slander public figures and slander is protected

    does she really think, or rather, did she disconnect her brain when she wrote that sentence?
    how would someone use libel laws to silence someone?
    the only thing libel law can silence is libel:
    a published false statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation; a written defamation

    ie…techically she is calling for libel, slander, aspersions, disparagements to be legal to put out fake news about candidates and see if the dirt sticks…

    is that really the way she would want herself to be treated given she is an author and public figure?

    please re-ingage your brain and think a bit rather than being a moronic parrot…
    moronic parrots help big lies not make the world a better place…

    1. I’m not a fan of the double standard concerning libel of “public figures” – this double standard is supposedly based on the idea that the fear of lawsuits will choke off debate on public issues.

      The key idea is that even an unfounded libel suit will impose consts on a truth-telling journalist unless the burdens of the plaintiff are made really high.

      Another way to deal with the problem of unfounded libel suits, though, is to adopt loser pays. Corrupt politician sues truth-telling journalist and loses, corrupt politician has to pay the legal expenses of the truth-teller.

      That would be better than denying justice to the maligned public figure.

      1. But the chilling effect of lawsuits is a real thing, and can’t be waved off – you need to suggest what you’d do about the problem.

        1. Truth is always a defense to libel. And the discovery process is always going to open any plaintiff to having to answer all kinds of questions about the issue and their personal behavior. So, if a statement is really true, why would a plaintiff want to sue and risk that? Moreover, if a statement is false, why should we worry about a chilling effect? I happen to think people should think twice before they lie. Don’t you?

          1. “Truth is always a defense” only works if plaintiff and defendant are comparably situated in their capability to find and maintain representation. If they aren’t, and the plaintiff is able to keep the case going long enough to run out the clock on the defendant’s assets? Then it often doesn’t matter. They’ll settle just to make it end.

      2. while the people that dont like trump want to paint this as some nefarious thing

        the people who want rule by law realize that the point is to stop the kind of thing below

        Those defending it realize that they dont win by discussing the point, debating and conceding loss, they win by slander, and all that… why else call all white men racists? why say the old soviet left (trotsky) and right (bukharin)? what can one do about someone that makes up something 20 years after the fact?

        During a speech on Aug. 2, 2012, after Romney had become GOP candidate for president, Reid claimed that a source had informed him that the former Massachusetts governor had not paid taxes for 10 years.

        “As we know, he has refused to release his tax returns. If a person coming before this body wanted to be a Cabinet officer, he couldn’t be if he had the same refusal Mitt Romney does about tax returns. So the word is out that he has not paid any taxes for 10 years. Let him prove he has paid taxes, because he has not,” Reid said.

        Reid produced no evidence to back up his claim at the time, and his statement was widely denounced as a lie by fact-checkers and other political observers at the time.

        In September 2012, Romney released a notarized letter from his tax preparer showing that he paid state and federal income taxes for the previous 20 years. The lowest federal tax rate he incurred during that span was 13.66 percent, according to the documents he released.

  16. Why didnt buzzfeed wait and validate the hoax?
    because under the libel laws that trump seeks to change, they cant get in trouble for doing so
    now watch how, for a long time, people who didnt get the hoax message or believe it will keep pushing it!!!!

    THAT is why he wants to (rightfully) change those laws, NOT to intimidate valid complaints
    but to invalidate the complaints like him peeing on a obama bed, and that making it into a CIA report by playing a never trumper from his own party, and then they added the spin that russia will blackmail him

    ever think that hillary with all her stuff on her open server was the blackmail target?
    that the left always does this… or they protect the deviant so that if they do anything else, the protection is removed
    just look at the lovely man who is running the mortgage thing.. he happens to be gay, but his boyfriend was running a prostitute game from his home, when he told the person to stop, he found them a job in the senate!!!

    without the protection of the dems, he would have been way out!!
    without the protection of the dems, the grand keegle of the kkk would not have served till his death a short while ago
    and on and on it goes….

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