When Sherrod’s full speech to an NAACP group earlier that year came to light, it became clear that her remarks about an initial reluctance to help a white farmer decades ago were not racist but an attempt at telling a story of racial reconciliation. Once that was obvious, Sherrod received public apologies from the administration, even from President Barack Obama himself, and an offer to return to the Agriculture Department, which she declined.
Sherrod’s lawyers have been pushing the government to release more documents and emails in an effort to get more information on her ouster.
At one point, the judge said that deposing Vilsack, who has said he alone made the decision to seek Sherrod’s resignation, might be a quicker route to the information.
The case is one of the first high-profile federal lawsuits to test bloggers’ freedom of speech rights, and large news organizations including The New York Times Co., The Washington Post Co. and Dow Jones & Company have filed friend-of-the-court briefs in the suit.
Breitbart died unexpectedly in 2012, but his wife, Susannah, has been substituted as a defendant. Sherrod’s lawyers say the unnamed defendant is the person who they believe passed the video on to Breitbart, though the person’s identity remains unknown.
Sherrod’s lawsuit says the incident affected her sleep and caused her back pain. It contends that she was damaged by having her “integrity, impartiality and motivations questioned, making it difficult (if not impossible) for her to continue her life’s work assisting poor farmers in rural areas” even though she was invited to return to the department.
Lawyers for the bloggers argue the blog post was opinion and did not defame Sherrod.