Donald Trump wants to sue the women accusing him of sexual harassment. Specifically, he wants to sue them for libel and slander. This follows Trump’s strong history of threatening people with lawsuits. This time, about ten women have accused Trump of inappropriate touching. The accusations go back to the 1990’s.
These claims against Trump come at an extremely crucial time for the Trump campaign. Recently. Access Hollywood released a video, where Trump was caught saying lewd things about women, leading to more and more women coming forward with groping allegations. So, does Trump actually have a case against his accusers? Could he win if he actually brings them to court?
What are Libel and Slander?
Libel and Slander fall under Defamation Law. Defamation is when someone makes a false claim about another person, causing that person to suffer damages. Libel is when the defamatory statement is published. Slander is when someone expresses a defamatory statement verbally.
Generally, four elements must be proven in order to successfully sue for libel and slander. It must be shown that:
- Damaging remarks were published or spoken
- The remarks were false
- Harm was caused by the words (or picture)
- The defendant’s statement does not have immunity. There are special cases, such as a witness’ testimony, in which a false statement is protected by law. You can sue if the person making the false statement does not have this immunity.
In brief, you have to prove many things to win a libel case. However, that’s just in general. With public figures – such as Donald Trump – the case for defamation is harder to win in court. In the 1964 case, New York Times v Sullivan, the Supreme Court decided that public figures have an additional item to prove when suing for libel or slander: actual malice. Actual malice means that a person intentionally made a false, damaging statement in order to hurt a public figure. So, for Trump to win his case against the women accusing him of sexual harassment, he must prove that they were intentionally lying when they made the accusations.
Should Donald Trump Sue?
Let’s say that Donald Trump actually sues his accusers. Would it be worth it? Well, the amount in damages could be large, if in fact the statements are proven to be defamatory. However, this would require a trial into the sordid details of the sexual history of those involved, including Trump. Although such an event would be great for television ratings, it would be a terrible distraction for our country.
Also, it is very difficult for public figures to win libel cases in Court. This is due to the protections that the First Amendment provides to speech. Our Courts consistently seek to protect free speech whenever possible. An important part of freedom of speech is the right to criticize government officials, without fear of reprisal. For this reason, public figures are at a disadvantage in bringing defamation cases.
To sum up, to sue someone for libel, you have to prove many things. This becomes a harder task when you are a public figure. Only time will tell if Trump follows through on his threats. If he does, however, we will have sunk to a new low in American politics.
Siobhan Donahue is a Legal Contributor to www.lawyers24-7.com