Jason Hopkins on August 6, 2019

A federal appeals court gave former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin a major victory in her defamation lawsuit regarding a New York Times editorial that tied her to the shooting of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal in New York ruled Tuesday that a lower court judge made a mistake by hearing testimony from The New York Times’ editorial page editor before dismissing the complaint. The 3-0 decision allows the former Republican vice presidential candidate to move forward with her defamation suit against the newspaper.

The lawsuit dates back to a June 2017 NYT editorial board op-ed. The op-ed, which discussed an avowed progressive activist shooting a GOP congressional baseball team in 2017, tied Palin to the 2011 shooting of Giffords, a Democrat.

“In 2011, when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire in a supermarket parking lot, grievously wounding Representative Gabby Giffords and killing six people, including a 9-year-old girl, the link to political incitement was clear. Before the shooting, Sarah Palin’s political action committee circulated a map of targeted electoral districts that put Ms. Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs,” read an earlier version of the op-ed.

The NYT received widespread backlash for the claim, with Palin calling it “sickening.” The newspaper subsequently issued a correction and admitted no link between political rhetoric and the shooting existed. Nevertheless, Palin lodged a defamation claim later that month.

Circuit Judge John Walker concluded Palin’s claim is plausible, but that she bears the strict burden of proving the paper acted with “malice” when it published the editorial. The judge rejected The NYT’s argument that Palin merely showed the paper made an unintentional mistake and said the paper’s quick decision to correct the op-ed suggests the public may have perceived the false statements as facts.

“We are disappointed in the decision and intend to continue to defend the action vigorously,” NYT spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha said to Reuters about the court ruling.

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