Silberman’s dissent was a response to a rather minor opinion issued by his court, the U.S. Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia Circuit, involving a defamation lawsuit. The case involved a report published by Global Witness, an international human rights organization, accusing two former Liberian officials, Christiana Tah and Randolph McClain, of accepting bribes from oil giant Exxon. Tah and McClain sued Global Witness for defamation. Because they are public officials, they are obligated to demonstrate that the organization lied about them with “actual malice” under the Supreme Court’s landmark 1964 decision New York Times v. Sullivan. That standard required the plaintiffs to prove that Global Witness knew it was lying, or acted with “reckless disregard” for the truth. By a 2–1 majority, the D.C. Circuit held that Tah and McClain “failed to plausibly allege” actual malice and tossed their lawsuit.
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