Tory v. Cochran

PETITIONER: Ulysses Tory, et al.
RESPONDENT: Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr.
LOCATION: Old Farm Village Apartments

DOCKET NO.: 03-1488
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 544 US 734 (2005)
GRANTED: Sep 28, 2004
ARGUED: Mar 22, 2005
DECIDED: May 31, 2005

ADVOCATES:
Eve Burton - for Los Angeles Times Communications LLC et al. as amici curiae
Erwin Chemerinsky - argued the cause for Petitioners
Eric N. Lieberman - for Los Angeles Times Communications LLC et al. as amici curiae
George Freeman - for Los Angeles Times Communications LLC et al. as amici curiae
Harold W. Fuson, Jr. - for Los Angeles Times Communications LLC et al. as amici curiae
Jerry S. Birenz - for Los Angeles Times Communications LLC et al. as amici curiae
Jonathan Bloom - for Los Angeles Times Communications LLC et al. as amici curiae
Jonathan B. Cole - argued the cause for Respondent
Jonathan R. Donnellan - for Los Angeles Times Communications LLC et al. as amici curiae
Jeffrey L. Fisher - for Los Angeles Times Communications LLC et al. as amici curiae
Karlene Goller - for Los Angeles Times Communications LLC et al. as amici curiae
Kelli L. Sager - for Los Angeles Times Communications LLC et al. as amici curiae
Lucy A. Dalglish - for Los Angeles Times Communications LLC et al. as amici curiae
Richard A. Bernstein - for Los Angeles Times Communications LLC et al. as amici curiae
Steven D. Zansberg - for Los Angeles Times Communications LLC et al. as amici curiae
Thomas B. Kelley - for Los Angeles Times Communications LLC et al. as amici curiae

Facts of the case

Johnnie Cochran sued his former client Ulysses Tory in a California court for making defaming statements. Tory had tried to force Cochran to pay him money in exchange for desisting, Cochran argued. A judge agreed and ordered Tory to never talk about Cochran again. Tory appealed unsuccessfully in state court, arguing the order violated his First Amendment right to free speech. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. Cochran died one week after oral argument.

Question

Did a judge's order that someone stop making defaming statements about a public figure, even after that figure's death, violate the First Amendment right to free speech?

Media for Tory v. Cochran

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 22, 2005 in Tory v. Cochran

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 31, 2005 in Tory v. Cochran

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in Tory against Cochran will be announced by Justice Breyer.

Stephen G. Breyer:

Johnnie Cochran who is a, as you probably know, well known trial lawyer, brought a state defamation action in which he claimed that the petitioner, Ulysses Tory, picketed at his office and pursued him on the street, insulting him in various ways.

Apparently, about money that Tory thought that Cochran owed him, but the Trial Court found that there was no such debt of any kind and that the Tory’s claims lacked any foundation, and ultimately entered an injunction against Tory that among other things ordered him not to make any oral statements about Cochran or his law firm in a public place.

Tory appealed.

He lost.

He sought certiorari here.

He said that the First Amendment leaves the Trial Court without the power to issue an injunction about speech in a state defamation action and in any event, the injunction he said was too broad.

We said we would review it, we read the briefs and after oral argument of the case, we are sad to say that Johnnie Cochran passed away.

His counsel, now representing his wife, thinks that we should dismiss the case as moved but Tory has asked us instead to vacate the judgment and remand the case so the injunction which is still there cannot remain in effect.

We conclude that the case, at least, in so far as federal law is concerned is not really moved.

Nonetheless circumstances have changed dramatically so that the injunction as it now stands lacks the reasons that brought it into existence in the first place.

So, it is clearly too broad as it now stands and consequently must violate the First Amendment.

So, for that reason and others which we set forth in an opinion, we vacate the decision of the California Appeals Court to remand the case.

Justice Thomas has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Scalia has joined.