On Monday morning, numerous journalists arrived at a Manhattan federal courthouse for a trial that could easily gut press freedoms in America: Sarah Palin versus the New York Times.
In 2017, the former Alaska governor and reality-show contestant filed a defamation lawsuit against the paper over an editorial titled “America’s Lethal Politics.” The editorial misleadingly tied ads from her political action committee to the 2011 attack on Representative Gabby Giffords in Tucson, Arizona, and was published shortly after a gunman attacked Republican politicians in Virginia, gravely wounding Representative Steve Scalise.
While the day’s proceedings should have set the stage for potentially watershed and long-awaited First Amendment discourse, things went off the rails immediately: Palin had tested positive for COVID-19, the court announced.
As such, she was not present, and jury selection did not start as planned.
“She is, of course, unvaccinated,” the judge, Jed Rakoff, told the court, noting that the result was from an at-home test. Rakoff said Palin would undergo retesting before he would decide whether to postpone the trial.
Palin has been in New York City since at least Saturday night, when she was seen dining indoors at Elio’s, the packed red-sauce joint on Second Avenue, at a circular table in the corner up front by the window. As she was visible from outside, people out front pestered a server to confirm whether it was Palin; it was. The restaurant is apparently casual about checking vaccination status: CNBC’s Brian Schwartz noted his vaccine card was not checked on his own recent visit.
Later this morning, lawyers for Palin and the Times returned to Rakoff’s courtroom; the space was virtually empty save the lawyers on the case and a few reporters.
There was more bad news.
“Judge, my client went to one of the centers,” one of Palin’s lawyers said. “There were a few people in front of her. She was confused by the PCR test.”
Explained the attorney: The center offered rapid and regular PCRs, but Palin thought they had only the latter. She was told this would take at least three days for results, which, given her trial, wasn’t really feasible.
So Palin went to another testing site down the road and took a rapid test. “It was an antigen test, but it’s positive.”
“Since she has apparently tested positive three times, I’m going to assume that she’s positive,” Rakoff said.
Then Rakoff pointed out a silver lining thanks to the CDC: “They have said that even if she continues to test positive, she can actually return to the court on February 3, provided she’s asymptomatic,” Rakoff said.
“I think the chances are reasonably good that we will start on February 3,” he said.
While leaving court shortly after this underwhelming proceeding, several of Palin’s lawyers declined to comment on the COVID-related developments.
“How is she feeling?” a New York Post reporter asked as they slowly made their way toward Centre Street. “Does she have any symptoms?” The lawyers kept walking.
Additional reporting by Shawn McCreesh.