- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 25, 2015

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - An Alabama attorney who was involved in a landmark U.S. Supreme Court libel case died Tuesday night in Montgomery.

Merton “Rod” Roland Nachman, died at home at age 91 following a prolonged illness, said his daughter Amy Nachman.

The elder Nachman represented Alabama officials in the 1964 New York Times v. Sullivan case. The case stemmed from an effort by authorities in Alabama to limit newspaper coverage of civil rights protests.

The newspaper ran a full-page advertisement titled “Heed Their Rising Voices” in 1960 describing the treatment of civil rights demonstrators and appealing for donations to support leaders of the movement. Then Montgomery city police commissioner L.B. Sullivan had argued the ad was libelous and damaged his reputation, despite his name not being included in it.

Sullivan sued in Alabama and won a $500,000 judgment. The case later went before the U.S. Supreme Court and Sullivan lost when the court established a standard for libel cases.

The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision required public officials to prove actual malice, or that false statements had been published knowingly or with reckless disregard for the truth.

The court’s decision was considered a victory for press freedom. The decades-old decision applies today and has been adjusted to account for new publishing platforms, including social media.

Nachman, a Montgomery native, attended Harvard College and Harvard Law School before returning to Montgomery, his family said in a prepared obituary.

Nachman had been under hospice care and died at the house his grandfather had built and where he had lived for most of his life, Amy Nachman said.

“He could quote Shakespeare, Dickens and W.C. Fields right up until the end despite his battle with Alzheimer’s disease,” relatives said in the obituary. “Known for his quick wit, keen intelligence, generous and caring nature and love of Bombay Blue Sapphire gin, he will be sorely missed.”

A graveside service is scheduled Dec. 1 at a Montgomery cemetery.

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