The Supreme Court Deliberates Snyder vs the WBC

October 7th, 2010

Just a few snippets from what the Supreme Court Justices discussed yesterday as they considered Snyder versus the Westboro Baptist Church…

Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked about the basis for Snyder’s belief that public speech directed at a private person should be treated differently than such speech directed at a public figure.

Justice Elena Kagan questioned whether states could remedy the situation by banning funeral protests.

Justice Anthony Kennedy asked Summers whether he knew of any similar cases where damages were awarded, but Summers (Snyder’s lawyer) did not.

Chief Justice John Roberts tried to push Phelps (Margie Phelps, daughter of Fred) beyond the “facts of the case” to discuss the “broader” issues.

“This is a case about exploiting a private family’s grief,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg said “And the question is: Why should the First Amendment tolerate exploiting this bereaved family?”

Justice Clarence Thomas asked dozens of questions and offered various hypothetical circumstances in an effort to tease out the border between communication and confrontation.

Justice Antonin Scalia questioned whether the online diatribe should be considered separately from the funeral protest, while Justice Samuel Alito suggested that it provided the context to understand the picketing.  (This is regarding a hate filled essay that referred to Snyder’s son which the WBC posted on their website shortly after the protest took place).

Justice Stephen Breyer called the Westboro statements “very obnoxious,” and raised concerns about their being broadcast over television and on the Internet. “What should the rules be there?” he said.

It seems to me from these statements that the justices feel a great amount of sympathy towards the Snyder family and seem to be genuinely questioning whether or not free speech extends to private funerals.  You can read the full article here…


  • Tracy:

    Love Ginsberg!

  • MrsD:

    Sadly, looked at objectively in light of the constitution, these idiots have the right to say whatever they want. As they say, you can’t legislate stupidity. My question is: Are these ding-a-lings allowed to say what they say WHERE they say it? Afterall, I have the right to yell “FIRE” in my own yard, in my neighborhood or standing on the street. What I DON’T have the right to do is yell “FIRE” in the middle of a crowded theatre.

    Just my two cents’ worth and worth every penny you paid to read it. ;-)

  • suzie-q:

    First Amendment Rights : Basic Decency = Sticky Wicket. I vote for basic decency. Right-on, Justice Ginsberg.

  • I agree with MrsD, unfortunately. The PBS story last night indicated the same, that the Snyder family has a tough row to how from here. Of course, I would also like to exercise my right to free speech if I ever encounter the Phelps family at one of these occasions. Maybe a nice brick fastball to the nuts. Just a gentle reminder of my own point of view. By the way, the Phelps daughter (legal representative) is a real nut case. Did you see her rendition of Ozzy’s Crazy Train? Makes me shudder….EFH

  • Matt:

    The ‘free speech’ concern is silly. Try telling a cop something offensive, and they’ll immediately arrest you for ‘threatening’ behavior, maybe even draw a gun on you. As a US citizen YOU HAVE THAT RIGHT AS WELL. If someone is in your face, screaming at you, you do in fact have the right to ask to be left alone. This is a crock.

  • Kay in KCMO:

    Thomas asked questions? *Clarence* Thomas? Mark that down in the history books.

  • Jimmy-boy:

    To quote PG Wodehouse “What a crew!” Whatever the rights and wrongs of the case the WBC are an unpleasant bunch!

    I read an article a while back that pointed out that their interpretation of the bible was, however, at least logical and accurate. Most modern Christianity has to do some pretty heavy ducking and diving to deal with what is actually written in the book, and the character of their appalling good, as revealed there.

    So I think that the WBC does appear to have that much right. Yahweh is profoundly unpleasant (and is a mirror of his profoundly unpleasant creators and current maintenance gang of course).



    • Jimmy-boy:

      Should have been “appalling god” there. It’s the 13 thumbs I’ve got that cause the issue with keyboards…

    • Rechelle:

      Jimmy-boy – When I was a xian – I always struggled with the idea that Fred Phelps might just be right. He very much proclaims the truth of the bible in a way that is very similar to the Old Testament prophets – Isaiah, Elijah, Elisha – they were all screaming crackpots who roved around the country pointing out what they thought was sin and announcing impending doom for everyone. I think Fred’s version of Christianity is very accurate and thankfully – most Christians reject it.

  • annmarie:

    Do you ever watch a show called Community? I hardly ever do , but twice now they have had episodes dealing with religion and it’s been done well. The show is pretty stupid, but the writing about this issue has been handled well.

  • p:

    In Canada, we don’t have “free speech”, but ONLY because it was decided that it was more important to have hate speech laws on the books. Other than that, though, it’s the same. People protest government policy and tuition hikes all day long over here, and the police are dispatched to protect the protesters.

    I think it’s worth it, too, to lose the blanket “right” of “free speech” just to know that if one of my neighbors ever decided to stand in the hall yelling about the “nigger rag head bitch” down the hall, we could shut him down no problem. Because that wouldn’t be offensive just to that nice Muslim lady, but to everyone within earshot.

  • Jessie:

    Mr. Snyder’s family is from my area, and in an interview with the local paper he stated … shoot; wanted to give the exact quote but can’t find the article now. Anyway, the gist was that he is deeply committed to free speech, as was his son; he just wanted everyone to understand that the issue here is not free speech but harrassment.

  • Rebecca:

    Can I say something?
    I don’t have a problem with free speech.
    Just respect people while they bury their dead.
    If you feel you need to say something, great, good on you.
    But have a little mercy for those who are giving a last measure to those loved ones lost.