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Inc. Gertz v. Robert Welch

Defamation In Common Law, Precedent, Thegertz Case, A Balance, Gertz Not A Public Figure


Elmer Gertz


Robert Welch, Inc.

Petitioner's Claim

That an article in the respondent's magazine had defamed him, and that the respondent was liable for damages.

Chief Lawyer for Petitioner

Wayne B. Giampietro

Chief Lawyer for Respondent

Clyde J. Watts

Justices for the Court

Harry A. Blackmun, Thurgood Marshall, Lewis F. Powell, Jr. (writing for the Court), William H. Rehnquist, Potter Stewart

Justices Dissenting

William J. Brennan, Jr., Warren E. Burger, William O. Douglas, Byron R. White


Washington, D.C.

Date of Decision

25 June 1974


The Court overruled the court of appeals and district court rulings and held that the respondent was liable for damages.


The decision established a precedent for libel cases involving private individuals. Unlike public officials or public figures, private individuals did not need to establish actual malice in order to receive damages.


In Gertz the Court attempted to formulate a test to identify public figures. Lower courts have not been able to discern a clear precedent, though, particularly for the limited-purpose public figure. They have thus produced inconsistent and unpredictable judgments regarding who is a public figure. The effect is a press unsure of its protection when commenting on certain individuals, resulting perhaps in some self-censorship.

Related Cases

  • New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964).
  • Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts, 388 U.S. 130 (1967).
  • Rosenbloom v. Metromedia, 403 U.S. 29 (1971).


Cornell. http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/.

Findlaw. http://www.findlaw.com/casecode/supreme.html.


Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980