The statement was puzzling, not least because opening up laws is not a thing. And if it were a thing, it would be done by legislatures or courts, not the president.
Read generously, though, Mr. Trump’s statement may have meant that he intended to appoint Supreme Court justices who would vote to overturn precedents that make it hard to sue for libel.
On this score, at least, Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, seems destined to disappoint his patron. Judge Gorsuch’s decisions in libel and related cases show no inclination to cut back on protections for the press.
Some plaintiffs, he wrote in a 2011 opinion, have reputations so poor that even serious accusations cannot damage them. Libel law, he said, is “about protecting a good reputation honestly earned.”
Judge Gorsuch added that minor inaccuracies in a news report can never serve as the basis for a libel suit, calling that “a First Amendment imperative.”
Press lawyers who have reviewed Judge Gorsuch’s decisions said they liked what they saw.
“In a handful of opinions where he has weighed in on the subject, Judge Gorsuch shows no indication that he will ‘open up libel laws’ to muzzle the press, as the president appears to hope,” said Gayle C. Sproul, a lawyer with Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz in Philadelphia.
Eugene Volokh, an expert in First Amendment law at the University of California, Los Angeles, said Judge Gorsuch’s commitment to free speech was not guarded or grudging.
“Sometimes when judges apply the rules, you can see that they’re holding their nose,” Professor Volokh said. “He didn’t seem to be.”
The question in the 2011 case was whether a Colorado prisoner, Jerry Lee Bustos, could sue the makers of a cable television show for calling him a member of the Aryan Brotherhood, a prison gang, when Mr. Bustos had merely conspired with the gang. Judge Gorsuch said there was no reason to think that Mr. Bustos’s “standing in the public eye would be improved at all by more careful explication of the true particulars…