Defamation / Reputation
Johnson v. Steele
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Closed Contracts Expression
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Rodolfo Arístides Canicoba Corral, a federal judge, brought a defamation suit against Sergio Edgardo Acevedo after Acevedo called Canicoba Corral “despicable” in a public interview. In an unexpected holding, Acevedo’s words were found to be insulting, excessively harsh, and not in the realm of tolerable criticism. As such, Acevedo was held liable for defamation against Canicoba Corral.
Judge Canicoba Corral’s defamation suit against Acevedo, the former governor of the Argentine province of Santa Cruz, stemmed from statements Acevedo made in an interview that Canicoba Corral claimed damaged his dignity and honor.
Acevedo’s statement that sparked this controversy included the use of the term “despicable” to describe Canicoba Corral in regards to his actions while in office. The Court of First Instance and the Appellate Tribunal held Acevedo liable for defamation, stating that his expressions were excessive and that the terms used surpassed the reasonable limits of criticism.
The case was brought before the Supreme Court of Argentina, which handed down a surprising and regressive decision. The Court stated that the right to express critical opinions did not translate into impunity for and acceptance of expressions that are strictly and undoubtedly insulting and reasoned that judges could not be expected to tolerate these insults and be denied protection because of their position. The Court held that Acevedo’s use of the term “despicable” was an insult, different from tolerable criticism of a public official, and therefore held him liable for defamation against Canicoba Corral. The decision was all the more shocking in light of the fact that it came only 13 days after the Court had decided Sujarchuk v. Warley, a case that involved similar elements but resulted in an holding that was diametrically opposed to this one.
Justices Highton de Nolasco, Petracchi, and Argibay dissented. Keeping with the Court’s prior jurisprudence, the dissent argued that when opinions pertained to issues of public interest or to the actions of public officials in regards to their positions, the right to receive and impart information, in its social phase, must be granted a higher, more deferential respect than the right to intimacy or the honor of those who are in a public placement, even when those opinions that are vehement or hurtful.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The decision of the Supreme Court of Argentina to find Acevedo liable for defamation decidedly goes against the principle of freedom of expression. The ruling here stands in opposition to both the Court’s own jurisprudence and global standards, which sustain that expressions should be protected, even if they are vehement or hurtful.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
The Supreme Court of Argentina decides cases on an individual basis, and its case law does not create binding precedents. However, the Court is the ultimate interpreter of the Constitution, and, as such, its decisions are highly persuasive.
Let us know if you notice errors or if the case analysis needs revision.