Donald Trump, who has threatened to loosen libel laws to intimidate reporters, is reportedly considering appointing the billionaire who killed Gawker to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Peter Thiel, the venture capitalist who founded PayPal and the CIA-backed data analysis firm Palantir, has been telling friends that Trump plans to nominate him to fill the vacancy left when Justice Antonin Scalia died in February, reported the Huffington Post.
President Barack Obama nominated federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland to the seat, but Senate Republicans have refused to hold hearings until after the November election.
Thiel, who graduated from Stanford Law and worked for seven months at the prestigious Sullivan & Cromwell law firm in New York City, would become the first openly gay Supreme Court nominee.
That might not sit well with the religious right, who thought they’d reached an agreement to back Trump for president in exchange for putting a right-wing Christian on the court.
That’s also a bad sign for the First Amendment.
Thiel, the first outside investor in Facebook and still a board member for the social media behemoth, bankrolled the successful lawsuit brought by Terry “Hulk Hogan” Bollea against Gawker.
A court ordered Gawker to pay $140 million in damages to the retired wrestler, after the website published a sex tape without his permission.
The ruling pushed Gawker and its publisher, Nick Denton, into bankruptcy and forced the news and gossip website to shut down last month.
Thiel apparently invested in Bollea’s suit to punish Gawker for revealing him as gay in 2007, before the billionaire said he was ready.
Trump, an outspoken admirer of Vladimir Putin, has expressed a similar urge to punish journalists who publish news he doesn’t like.
“I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money,” Trump said in February. “We’re going to open up those libel laws. So when the New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when the Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected.”
The Supreme Court ruled in 1964’s New York Times Co. v. Sullivan case that public figures — like Trump, the reality TV-star-turned-Republican presidential nominee — can win lawsuits against the press only if they can prove actual malice.
Plaintiffs must also prove in those cases that media organizations knowingly published wholly incorrect information or acted with reckless disregard.
Trump, on the other hand, would like to lift some of those burdens on wealthy celebrities.
“You see, with me, they’re not protected, because I’m not like other people but I’m not taking money, I’m not taking their money,” Trump said. “We’re going to open up libel laws, and we’re going to have people sue you like you’ve never got sued before.”