Garrison v. Louisiana Case Brief

Facts of the Case

During a dispute with the judges of the Criminal District Court of the Parish of New Orleans, the district attorney for the parish held a press conference at which he attributed a large backlog of pending criminal cases to the inefficiency, laziness, and excessive vacations of the judges, and accused them of hampering his enforcement of the vice laws by refusing to authorize the expenses for the necessary investigations. He was tried without a jury before a judge from another parish and convicted, in the Criminal District Court of the Parish of New Orleans, of criminal defamation as defined in a Louisiana statute. The Supreme Court of Louisiana affirmed the conviction. The Louisiana Supreme Court interpreted the statute as permitting punishment of truthful criticism of public officials if made with actual malice, and punishment of false statements made with ill will.




“Yes. Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. delivered the opinion of the 9-0 majority. The Court held that a criminal libel statute should conform to the same restrictions as civil libel statutes to protect the freedom of expression under the First Amendment. Therefore, such statutes may only criminalize statements that are knowingly false or made with a reckless disregard for their truth or falsity. This limitation on libel statutes is in line with the precedent the Court established in New York Times v. Sullivan , and there is no reason that the freedom of speech protections should apply differently to a civil libel statute than to a criminal one. Based on this standard, the Louisiana Criminal Defamation Statute is unconstitutionally broad and infringes on the First Amendment’s protections of free speech.In his concurring opinion, Justice Hugo L. Black wrote that the First Amendment protects citizens from being punished by the government for expressing an opinion, and therefore there should be no law permitting criminal punishment for libel. Justice William O. Douglas joined in the concurrence. Justice Douglas wrote a separate concurring opinion in which he argued that that the standard the majority opinion seeks to apply to criminal libel statutes does not adequately protect the freedom of speech. Justice Black joined in the concurring opinion. In his separate concurring opinion, Justice Arthur J. Goldberg wrote that the Constitution protects the absolute right of citizens and the press to criticize official conduct.”

Case Information

Citation: 379 US 64 (1964)
Argued: Apr 22, 1964
Reargued: Oct 19, 1964
Decided: Nov 23, 1964
Granted: Nov 12, 1963
Case Brief: 1964