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Falwell v. Flynt: 1984

Jury Verdict Unprecedented

After clarification from Judge Turk on the complex legal issues involved, the jury retired. On December 8, 1984, they rejected the libel suit but found that Flynt had intended to cause Falwell emotional distress. For this reason they awarded the plaintiff $100,000 actual damages and $100,000 punitive damages.

Never before had a jury reached such a verdict. Clearly this was a decision headed for appeal, and in February 1988, the Supreme Court unanimously voted to reverse the lower court's verdict. In reaching their decision the Court made no attempt to condone the content of the Hustler parody, other than to say it was entitled to Constitutional protection.

Falwell v. Flynt ignited a storm of protest among America's media. Many feared an erosion of First Amendment right to free speech. In upholding this view the Supreme Court implied that while insults to public figures might be painful, denying the right to make them would be intolerable.

Colin Evans

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Suggestion for Further Reading

D'Souza, Dinesh. Falwell, Before The Millenium. Chicago: Regenery Gateway, 1984.

Falwell, Jerry. Strength For The Journey. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987.

Martz, Larry and Ginny Carroll. Ministry Of Greed. New York: Wiedenfeld & Nicolson, 1988.

Smolla, Rodney A. Jerry Falwell v. Larry Flynt. New York: St. Martins' Press, 1988.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988Falwell v. Flynt: 1984 - Flynt Duels With Lawyer, Jury Verdict Unprecedented