Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The first “king” is Roberto Carlos, a star of Brazilian music for at least fifty years, long known as “o Rei”. Some years ago, an unauthorized biography of “the King” was published with material that displeased the king, who went to court and obtained an injunction against the book prohibiting its circulation. He did not allege it was libelous, he simply said it violated his right to privacy.
The STF decided last week, unanimously, that freedom of the press is so important a feature of the Brazilian Constitution, that it trumped Brazil’s Civil Code. Public figures cannot prevent publication of unauthorized biographies, because that amounts to prior censorship and prior censorship is no longer permissible in Brazil.
The second “king” is Martin Luther King. 51 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court decided, unanimously, that public figures could not use libel laws to inhibit freedom of speech. The Times had published an advertisement seeking funds for Martin Luther King, which contained accusations that Alabama officials had brought trumped up charges against Mr. King. Alabama sued the Times for libel, and won a lower court decision.
All nine SCOTUS Justices held that freedom of the press is so important a feature of the U.S. Constitution that it trumped Alabama’s libel laws. The technical decision was that libel could only be found in a case of “actual malice” but the true impact was to protect the press from censorship by authorities.
The third “king” was John of England, generally recognized as one of the worst kings ever. On June 15, 1215, his nobles forced him to sign the Magna Carta, where even his royal actions were subject to the laws issued by Parliament — a concept now known as the Rule of Law, quite justly celebrated around the world, or at least in those few countries where the law still rules.
The earlier “king” decisions are still in effect, 51 and 800 years on; the Curmudgeon hopes the STF “king” decision will remain in effect equally as long.
The Curmudgeon will emit more Smidgens opportunely, without mixed royal metaphors.