BE&K Constr. Co. v. NLRB, 536 U.S. 516, 19 (2002)

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Opinion of the Court

a belief is both subjectively genuine and objectively reasonable, then declaring the resulting suit illegal affects genuine petitioning.

The Board also claims to rely on evidence of antiunion animus to infer retaliatory motive. Brief for Respondent NLRB 47. Yet ill will is not uncommon in litigation. Cf. Professional Real Estate Investors, 508 U. S., at 69 (Stevens, J., concurring in judgment) ("We may presume that every litigant intends harm to his adversary"). Disputes between adverse parties may generate such ill will that recourse to the courts becomes the only legal and practical means to resolve the situation. But that does not mean such disputes are not genuine. As long as a plaintiff's purpose is to stop conduct he reasonably believes is illegal, petitioning is genuine both objectively and subjectively. See id., at 60-61.

Even in other First Amendment contexts, we have found it problematic to regulate some demonstrably false expression based on the presence of ill will. For example, we invalidated a criminal statute prohibiting false statements about public officials made with ill will. See Garrison v. Louisiana, 379 U. S. 64, 73-74 (1964) ("Debate on public issues will not be uninhibited if the speaker must run the risk that it will be proved in court that he spoke out of hatred"). Indeed, the requirement that private defamation plaintiffs prove the falsity of speech on matters of public concern may indirectly shield much speech concealing ill motives. See Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc. v. Hepps, 475 U. S. 767, 776- 777 (1986); see also Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell, 485 U. S. 46, 53 (1988) (prohibiting use of ill motive to create liability for speech in the realm of public debate about public figures).

For these reasons, the difficult constitutional question we noted earlier, supra, at 531-533, is not made significantly easier by the Board's retaliatory motive limitation since that

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