NEW ORLEANS — The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit has ruled that a lower court erred in dismissing a defamation suit against the New York Times in which an economics professor claims the publication quoted him out of context.

A Jan. 26, 2014, front-page piece quoted Loyola University Professor Walter Block as describing slavery as “not so bad.” The story delved into the issue of libertarianism and Republican Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s candidacy for president, according to court documents.

Prof. Walter Block
Prof. Walter Block | Loyola University

A self-described libertarian, Block was also quoted in the piece as insisting retailer Woolworths had a right to exclude black people from its lunch counters because "no one is compelled to associate with people against their will."

Block claims the Times misrepresented his statements in attributing racist overtones to libertarian principles, adversely impacting Paul’s chances for running a successful campaign when it was clear he was only referring to slavery in such a way as a means of crystallizing the laws of free association.  

The suit directly names Times reporters Sam Tanenhaus and Jim Rutenberg as defendants and argues that although Block said the words at the crux of the dispute, the reporters “distorted their meaning by omitting necessary context” that more clearly illustrates just what he meant.   

While the three-judge panel found a "genuine issue of material fact" in rendering its verdict, the judges made sure to stress they were not ruling that Block had been defamed, only that the trial court erred in dismissing the case.

The case has been remanded to the New Orleans courtroom of U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle for further adjudication.

The suit was initially dismissed on the grounds Block did not satisfy Louisiana’s anti-SLAPP statutes, which stipulate a plaintiff must “create a genuine issue of fact as to falsity, fault, and defamatory meaning” for such a case to move forward.

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