ERIC Number: ED310392
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 1989-Aug-12
Reference Count: N/A
Some Second Thoughts about "Hustler v. Falwell."
Drechsel, Robert E.
In 1984, a jury awarded $200,000 to the Rev. Jerry Falwell for emotional distress intentionally inflicted by a parody depicting Falwell as a drunkard who had incestuous relations with his mother in an outhouse. In 1988, in "Hustler v. Falwell," the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the verdict on First Amendment grounds. Although the "Hustler" decision has been widely hailed as a major victory for freedom of expression, this view needs qualification, and subsequent cases in the lower courts support such qualification. A critical examination of the Supreme Court's decision suggests that the decision confuses the concepts of falsity, believability, and opinion. Analysis reveals the Court's opinion to be far from clear. The Court addresses neither the question of how much protection the First Amendment grants to opinion, nor the question of what constitutes opinion, nor the more general problem of plaintiffs' use of alternate theories of liability to avoid First Amendment obstacles to claims for libel. One result is that "Hustler v. Falwell" may not effectively discourage attempts to use intentional infliction of emotional distress as an end-run around difficult constitutional defenses to libel and invasion of privacy. (Sixty-three notes are included.) (MS)
Publication Type: Speeches/Meeting Papers; Opinion Papers; Information Analyses
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Laws, Policies, & Programs: First Amendment