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Supreme Court Facing Politically Tinged Cases : White House Aggressively Seeking Conservative Victories on Quotas, Abortion, Prayer in School

October 06, 1985|PHILIP HAGER | Times Staff Writer

Two cases involving freedom of the press could affect the ability of news organizations to defend against libel suits. One involves the Philadelphia Inquirer's challenge to a Pennsylvania law that places on libel defendants the burden of proving that defamatory statements against private figures are true. The newspaper wants the court to rule that the First Amendment requires the plaintiff to carry the burden of proving the statement false (Philadelphia Newspapers vs. Hepps, 84-1491).

The other case could determine whether a public figure, before taking a libel charge to trial, must be able to show that there is "clear and convincing evidence" that a defamatory statement was published with the knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard for the truth (Anderson vs. Liberty Lobby, 84-1602).

And, in a novel free speech case, the court will decide whether the California Public Utilities Commission may force Pacific Gas & Electric Co. to include political messages from a utility consumers' group in the company's monthly billing envelopes (PG&E vs. PUC, 84-1044).

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