UC Law Journal


James Corbelli


Since the landmark decision of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, the Supreme Court has struggled to strike a balance between the oft-conflicting interests in protecting individual reputations and first amendment freedoms of expression and the press. In Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., the Court developed a test that focuses on the status of the plaintiff as either a public or private figure. This Comment examines the development of the public figure status by the Court prior to Gertz, analyzes the Gertz decision in light of several leading first amendment theories, and evaluates the post-Gertz Supreme Court interpretations narrowing Gertz's "limited-purpose" category. The Comment concludes that a broadly interpreted "all-purpose" category is not necessary to protect first amendment interests and poses a danger of unwarranted infringements on privacy rights. The Comment recommends that public figure status be determined based on the actual activities of the plaintiff that gave rise to the defamatory comment, with only activities voluntarily placed before the public leading to first amendment protection.

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