Wednesday, January 10, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He promised to pass libel laws identical to current libel laws in the United States.

At a cabinet meeting today, Trump told reporters today that he intended to "take a very strong look" at revising libel laws, saying that the current laws on defamation were "a sham and a disgrace." (There is no federal libel law, although state laws are virtually uniform.) Given that Trump has sent lawyers after the publishers of Michael Wolff's recent book about him, and has threatened to sue at least one person quoted in it, it's not hard to guess where this sudden presidential interest in defamation law is coming from.

Under Trump's proposed new libel standard, "if somebody says something that’s totally false and knowingly false, that the person that has been abused, defamed, libeled, will have meaningful recourse.” With such a law in place, he claimed, no one would be able to "say things that are false, knowingly false, and be able to smile as money pours into your bank account."

This is exactly the standard set by existing defamation laws and Supreme Court decisions in the United States.

Even though criticism of public figures (like a president) is protected by the First Amendment, Trump himself would prevail in a libel or slander suit if he could demonstrate that someone had made abusive and knowingly false statements about him. He hasn't had much luck--or courage--in that respect, though.

Why should a normal person care about this?

  • A president who only cares about legislation when it directly affects him isn't doing his job.
  • It's bad if a president proposes laws without knowing what the current laws are.