Lawyers acting for Meghan Markle asked a Florida judge on Wednesday to throw out the defamation lawsuit filed by her half-sister Samantha Markle. They said her rights to “criticize” or “voice opinions” were “fundamental rights granted by the First Amendment.”
The case has been brought over comments made in the royal’s TV interview with Oprah Winfrey and information supplied to the authors of the biography Finding Freedom.
The freedom-of-speech argument has been made despite Meghan’s husband, Prince Harry, previously coming under fire for describing the First Amendment as “bonkers.”
During an appearance on The Armchair Expert podcast in May 2021, Harry said that, per his understanding, the amendment meant that “you can find a loophole in anything.” He added: “You can capitalize or exploit what’s not said rather than uphold what is said.”
Even though the prince did not specify exactly what provoked his view of the amendment, he also discussed in the podcast his issues with privacy and the media. He said that paparazzi photographers had followed his son on his first day of school in California.
A number of conservative critics lampooned the prince for his political commentary and apparent criticism of American rights. Meghan McCain took to Twitter to post: “We fought a war in 1776 so we don’t have to care what you say or think.
“That being said, you have chosen to seek refuge from your homeland here and thrive because all of what our country has to offer and one of the biggest things is the 1st amendment—show some utter respect,” the tweet read.
Samantha is suing Meghan for $75,000 over claims the duchess made about her to Winfrey in 2021. Meghan said that she was raised as an “only child;” that Samantha changed her name back to Markle only after Meghan’s relationship with Harry had been made public; and that she had not seen Samantha for nearly two decades.
The royal’s half-sister is also suing for defamation over information supplied by Meghan to a staff member who briefed the authors of the 2020 biography Finding Freedom. Among the information told to royal communications officer Jason Knauf—revealed in a media lawsuit in 2021—was that Samantha had “lost custody of all three of her children from different fathers.”
Peter Ticktin, acting for Samantha Markle, told Judge Charlene Edwards Honeywell during Wednesday’s hearing that Meghan’s comments had subjected his client to “ridicule, contempt and disgrace” in her portrayal as a “disgusting opportunist,” according to The Daily Telegraph.
In the hearing, which was considering Meghan’s motion to dismiss the case, the royal’s lawyer, Michael Kump, countered that the duchess’ comments about her sister during the interview with Winfrey were not defamatory.
“The right to voice opinions, to even criticize, are even fundamental rights granted by the First Amendment,” he told the court. “Opinions are not and cannot be defamatory… there’s no way to determine if it’s true or false.”
Concerning the issue of Finding Freedom, Meghan’s legal position has always been that, as she is not the author of the book, she did not publish the information. Therefore, she did not defame her sister under Florida law.
The undisputed authors of Finding Freedom are royal writers Carolyn Durand and Omid Scobie.
In Samantha Markle’s defense, Ticktin said: “Words are defamatory when they ‘tend to subject one to hatred, distrust, ridicule, contempt, or disgrace, or tend to injure one in one’s business or profession.’ In this case, we’ve got it all.”
Ticktin added that Meghan’s comments had caused “definite harm and damage” to her half-sister and that it had effectively “killed” Samantha’s career.
Judge Honeywell reserved judgment with a written ruling expected to be issued in due course. If she rules against Meghan’s request to have the case thrown out, then in the next stages of the case, both the duchess and Prince Harry could be required to give deposits under oath.
In her final summary, Judge Honeywell gave hope to Meghan’s case. She admits she was “struggling” to understand how it could be found, under Florida law, that Meghan “published” her comments about Samantha. This is key in a defamation case in the state.
No date has yet been given for Judge Honeywell’s ruling.
Newsweek approached legal representatives for Meghan Markle and Samantha Markle for comment.
James Crawford-Smith is Newsweek’s royal reporter based in London. You can find him on Twitter at @jrcrawfordsmith and read his stories on Newsweek’s The Royals Facebook page.
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