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View Full Version : Legal Wow...S.C. sides with Fred Phelps.


Mr. Kotter
03-02-2011, 10:11 AM
I'm not completely shocked--the bedrock of the First Amendment is surprising at times, but it's sure to send shockwaves through some...but time-manner-place restrictions will have to suffice.

http://www.cnn.com/2011/US/03/02/scotus.westboro.church/index.html?hpt=T1&iref=BN1

Supreme Court rules for anti-gay church over military funeral protests

Washington (CNN) -- A Kansas church that attracted nationwide attention for its angry, anti-gay protests at the funerals of U.S. military members has won its appeal at the Supreme Court, an issue testing the competing constitutional rights of free speech and privacy.

The justices, by an 8-1 vote, said Wednesday that members of Westboro Baptist Church had a right to promote what they call a broad-based message on public matters such as wars. The father of a fallen Marine had sued the small church, saying those protests amounted to targeted harassment and an intentional infliction of emotional distress.

"Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and -- as it did here -- inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority.

At issue was a delicate test between the privacy rights of grieving families and the free speech rights of demonstrators, however disturbing and provocative their message. Several states have attempted to impose specific limits on when and where the church members can protest.

The church, led by pastor Fred Phelps, believes God is punishing the United States for "the sin of homosexuality" through events including soldiers' deaths. Members have traveled the country shouting at grieving families at funerals and displaying such signs as "Thank God for dead soldiers," "God blew up the troops" and "AIDS cures pillowbiters."

Westboro members had appeared outside the 2006 funeral for Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder in Westminster, Maryland, outside Baltimore.

Snyder's family sued the church in 2007, alleging invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and civil conspiracy. A jury awarded the family $2.9 million in compensatory damages plus $8 million in punitive damages, which were later reduced to $5 million.

The church appealed the case in 2008 to a federal appeals court, which reversed the judgments a year later, siding with the church's allegations that its First Amendment rights were violated.

Albert Snyder, Matthew's father, said his son was not gay and the protesters should not have been at the funeral.

"I was just shocked that any individual could do this to another human being," Snyder told CNN. "I mean, it was inhuman."

Church members say their broader message was aimed at the unspecified actions of the military and those who serve in it. They believe U.S. soldiers deserve to die because they fight for a country that tolerates homosexuality.

Roberts in his opinion noted the Snyder family was not a "captive audience" to the protests that were conducted several hundred yards away.

"Westboro stayed well away from the memorial service," wrote Roberts. "Snyder could see no more than the tops of the signs when driving to the funeral. And there is no indication that the picketing itself in any way interfered with the funeral itself."

Based on that the court concluded Snyder could not collect damages from Westboro.

But the chief justice showed little sympathy for the message Westboro promotes.

"Westboro believes that America is morally flawed; many Americans might feel the same about Westboro. Westboro's funeral picketing is certainly hurtful and its contribution to public discourse may be negligible," he said. However, "As a nation we have chosen a different course -- to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate."

The ruling was a narrow one, dealing with the specific, unusual facts of this appeal. Such vocal protests at military funerals are almost entirely confined to this one small group. Roberts said on the free speech question, it was enough to rely on "limited principles that sweep no more broadly than the appropriate context of the instant case."

Only Justice Samuel Alito dissented. He said the church's "outrageous conduct caused petitioner great injury, and the court now compounds that injury by depriving petitioner of a judgment that acknowledges the wrong he suffered," he said. "In order to have a society in which public issues can be openly and vigorously debated, it is not necessary to allow the brutalization of innocent victims like petitioner."

The Supreme Court has never addressed the specific issue of laws designed to protect the "sanctity and dignity of memorial and funeral services," as well as the privacy of family and friends of the deceased. But the high court has recognized the state's interest in protecting people from unwanted protests or communications while in their homes.

The justices were being asked to address how far states and private entities like cemeteries and churches can go to justify picket-free zones and the use of "floating buffers" to silence or restrict the speech or movements of demonstrators exercising their constitutional rights in a funeral setting.

A majority of states across the nation have responded to the protests with varying levels of control over the Westboro church protesters. In Wednesday's case, 48 states and dozens of members of Congress filed an amicus brief in support of the Snyders.

Church members told the court they have a duty to protest and picket at certain events, including funerals, to promote their religious message: "That God's promise of love and heaven for those who obey him in this life is counterbalanced by God's wrath and hell for those who do not obey him."

The congregation is made up mostly of Fred Phelps and his family. The pastor has 13 children, and at least 54 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

He described himself as an "old-time" gospel preacher in a CNN interview in 2006, saying, "You can't preach the Bible without preaching the hatred of God."

Church members have participated in several hundred protests across the country.

In 2009, the high court blocked Missouri's effort to enforce a specific law aimed at the Westboro church. Phelps, daughter Shirley Phelps-Roper and other church members had protested near the August 2005 funeral of a soldier in St. Joseph, Missouri. State lawmakers later passed the "Spc. Edward Lee Myers Law," criminalizing picketing "in front of or about" a funeral location or procession.

The case decided Wednesday is Snyder v. Phelps (09-751).

Jaric
03-02-2011, 10:16 AM
I agree with the decision in principle, but I have to admit, I would really like to see that group of fucknuts die in an aids fire.

ClevelandBronco
03-02-2011, 10:32 AM
Good decision, but that's probably stating the obvious given the overwhelming number in the majority.

2bikemike
03-02-2011, 10:40 AM
I agree as well. It is their 1st amendment right. However they are a truly dispicable group of people.

chiefsnorth
03-02-2011, 10:52 AM
The only "wow" here is that it wasn't 9-0, IMO

ClevelandBronco
03-02-2011, 10:53 AM
The only "wow" here is that it wasn't 9-0, IMO

Good point.

Mr. Kotter
03-02-2011, 10:56 AM
The only "wow" here is that it wasn't 9-0, IMO

Yeah, Alito's argument is more psychology and compassion rather than law and reasoning.

Amnorix
03-02-2011, 11:06 AM
Surprised that Alito is so far off the reservation on this one.

ClevelandBronco
03-02-2011, 11:10 AM
Surprised that Alito is so far off the reservation on this one.

He thought that this was a safe opportunity to appear to have human-like emotion.

BucEyedPea
03-02-2011, 11:34 AM
The only "wow" here is that it wasn't 9-0, IMO

Yeah, Alito. He's the statist.

BucEyedPea
03-02-2011, 11:35 AM
Surprised that Alito is so far off the reservation on this one.

I'm not. The tip of the iceberg with him was where he is on executive powers. He's the statist on the right.

go bowe
03-02-2011, 12:08 PM
Surprised that Alito is so far off the reservation on this one.a portent of things to come...

fan4ever
03-02-2011, 12:37 PM
This ruling should come in handy when they try to shut down talk radio on the basis of "hate speech" or whatever other brand of bilk they try and come up with.

patteeu
03-02-2011, 12:40 PM
I'm shocked that someone said "wow" about this.

Mr. Kotter
03-02-2011, 12:59 PM
I'm shocked that someone said "wow" about this.

Adjust your sarcasm meter, patty.

go bowe
03-02-2011, 01:48 PM
This ruling should come in handy when they try to shut down talk radio on the basis of "hate speech" or whatever other brand of bilk they try and come up with.do you really think "they" will try to shut down talk radio?

all talk radio or just liberal talk radio?

ClevelandBronco
03-02-2011, 02:19 PM
do you really think "they" will try to shut down talk radio?

all talk radio or just liberal talk radio?

Liberal talk radio shuts itself down well enough.

fan4ever
03-02-2011, 03:22 PM
do you really think "they" will try to shut down talk radio?

all talk radio or just liberal talk radio?

"Fairness Doctrine"...won't shut it down, but give equal time to opposing viewpoints...because expousing an opinion is just wrong...like the mainstream media doesn't do that daily.

Jenson71
03-02-2011, 03:30 PM
I'm not. The tip of the iceberg with him was where he is on executive powers. He's the statist on the right.

I take it you're not a fan of Scalia's?

Jenson71
03-02-2011, 03:31 PM
Adjust your sarcasm meter, patty.

You weren't being sarcastic, Kotter.

I'm surprised it was 8-1. I'm not a devoted watcher of the Court, though.

ClevelandBronco
03-02-2011, 03:37 PM
You weren't being sarcastic, Kotter.

Shhh. It's a salvage op.

BucEyedPea
03-02-2011, 03:47 PM
I take it you're not a fan of Scalia's?

Is that you St. Anselm?

Jenson71
03-02-2011, 03:50 PM
Is that you St. Anselm?

A vicar of, ideally.

But really, Scalia's been pretty strong for a strong executive his whole life.

jettio
03-02-2011, 04:58 PM
I'm not. The tip of the iceberg with him was where he is on executive powers. He's the statist on the right.

This case was one where the family won a verdict in a tort case for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

I think if you allow tortious conduct to inflict injury and close the courts to the injured because the injurers claim free speech then you are depriving an individual family of a remedy.

The first amendment should limit government suppression, but it should not necessarily make it okay for people to go out of there way to inflict injury on others without ever having to answer for it in court.

go bowe
03-02-2011, 06:00 PM
"Fairness Doctrine"...won't shut it down, but give equal time to opposing viewpoints...because expousing an opinion is just wrong...like the mainstream media doesn't do that daily.didn't the fairness doctrine get dumped in the late 80's?

tmh
03-02-2011, 07:12 PM
big test of free speach is protecting the speach of the peope you despise.

patteeu
03-02-2011, 07:43 PM
This case was one where the family won a verdict in a tort case for intentional infliction of emotional distress.

I think if you allow tortious conduct to inflict injury and close the courts to the injured because the injurers claim free speech then you are depriving an individual family of a remedy.

The first amendment should limit government suppression, but it should not necessarily make it okay for people to go out of there way to inflict injury on others without ever having to answer for it in court.

That's a pretty decent argument, but I'm not a fan of the idea that words and images can create recoverable intentional infliction of emotional distress damages in the absence of real threats.

J Diddy
03-02-2011, 07:53 PM
This ruling should come in handy when they try to shut down talk radio on the basis of "hate speech" or whatever other brand of bilk they try and come up with.


If people find out so offensive they will tune it out or turn it off. The courts won't need to decide it. The consumer will.

Btw, hate speech is not a crime as evidenced here.

J Diddy
03-02-2011, 07:56 PM
That's a pretty decent argument, but I'm not a fan of the idea that words and images can create recoverable intentional infliction of emotional distress damages in the absence of real threats.

Making me look at the old Phelps windbag's picture is intentional infliction of emotional distress to me.

What's her name? Shirley?

Thank God she's got all her relatives to stuff her taco or she'll never get laid.

banyon
03-02-2011, 10:14 PM
Surprised that Alito is so far off the reservation on this one.

Surprisingly, I think I agree with Alito on this. I think it's the first time ever.

He persuaded me with this bit of reasoning:

10 SNYDER v. PHELPS
ALITO, J., dissenting

The Court concludes that respondents’ speech was protected by the First Amendment for essentially three reasons, but none is sound.
First—and most important—the Court finds that “the overall thrust and dominant theme of [their] demonstration spoke to” broad public issues. Ante, at 8. As I have attempted to show, this portrayal is quite inaccurate;respondents’ attack on Matthew was of central importance. But in any event, I fail to see why actionable speech should be immunized simply because it is interspersed with speech that is protected. The First Amendment allows recovery for defamatory statements that are interspersed with nondefamatory statements on matters of public concern, and there is no good reason why respondents’ attack on Matthew Snyder and his family should be treated differently

By ignoring the facts presented at trial which Alito nicely sets out that are of a private nature, the majority essentially invades the province of the jury and relitigates the factual findings which appellate courts are not supposed to do unless the facts don't meet a minimal sufficiency of the evidence standard. Like Alito says, some of their statements may have been protected speech, but there are other facts supporting the jury's finding. As Alito relevantly analogizes, does the majority's opinion allow defamatory comments so long as there is a public interest "component" to them?


I agree with some posters that there was emotional invective in Alito's opinion, but it doesn't diminish this legal distinction, IMO.

banyon
03-02-2011, 10:18 PM
That's a pretty decent argument, but I'm not a fan of the idea that words and images can create recoverable intentional infliction of emotional distress damages in the absence of real threats.

The burden in the statute is pretty high, way more than mere ordinary words:

Indeed, the state tort of “intentional infliction of emotional distress” forbids only conduct that produces distress “so severe that no reasonable man could be expected to endure it,” and which itself is “so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency,and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.” Post, at 2–3 (opinion of ALITO, J.) (quoting Harris v. Jones, 281 Md. 560, 567, 571, 380 A. 2d 611, 614, 616 (1977);

But in any event isn't it out of character for you to implore the federal courts to overturn the will of the people of Maryland to govern their public through their legislature by creating the statute forbidding this conduct?

mlyonsd
03-02-2011, 10:27 PM
The SC got it right.

The Phelps clan will die out. Maybe a Camry hearse with a stuck accelarator might make that happen quicker. Not that I'm suggesting it.

banyon
03-02-2011, 10:33 PM
The SC got it right.

The Phelps clan will die out. Maybe a Camry hearse with a stuck accelarator might make that happen quicker. Not that I'm suggesting it.

I am still surprised that an ex-Vietnam Vet dad who's a little unstable and his kid dies in Iraq or Afghanistan hasn't taken it out on these sick f*cks.

Of course that's precisely what they want, to be martyrs. They just don't have the conviction of Al-Qaeda.

mlyonsd
03-02-2011, 10:41 PM
I am still surprised that an ex-Vietnam Vet dad who's a little unstable and his kid dies in Iraq or Afghanistan hasn't taken it out on these sick f*cks.

Of course that's precisely what they want, to be martyrs. They just don't have the conviction of Al-Qaeda.
Yeah as much as hoping bad things will happen to the clan the best thing is to ignore them.

J Diddy
03-02-2011, 10:46 PM
I am still surprised that an ex-Vietnam Vet dad who's a little unstable and his kid dies in Iraq or Afghanistan hasn't taken it out on these sick f*cks.

Of course that's precisely what they want, to be martyrs. They just don't have the conviction of Al-Qaeda.

Maybe, and I'm just spitballing here, this is a way out. We can convince them that with every victory in the Supreme Court comes a free cruise. Book a yacht for the whole clan and send them sailing on the open seas.

Behold, Phelps clan, the beautiful wonders that await you sailing off the shores of Somalia.

KILLER_CLOWN
03-02-2011, 10:48 PM
They just don't have the conviction of Al-Qaeda.

Or the Government backing for that matter.

banyon
03-02-2011, 11:41 PM
Wow, sadly my view puts me in the same camp as Sarah Palin.

thankfully though it is for differing legal reasons. Actually, I'm not sure her nonsensical tweet rises to the level of a legal opinion:


http://www.salon.com/news/politics/sarah_palin/index.html?story=/politics/war_room/2011/03/02/palin_first_amendment

Sarah Palin, who has more than once invoked the First Amendment when she or her allies faced criticism, today denounced the Supreme Court's 8-1 ruling allowing the Westboro Baptist Church to protest outside soldiers' funerals with signs reading "“God Hates Fags" and the like.

Tweeted Palin in response to the ruling:

Common sense & decency absent as wacko "church" allowed hate msgs spewed@ soldiers' funerals but we can't invoke God's name in public square

banyon
03-03-2011, 12:12 AM
Yikes, Mr Snyder certainly didn't like the ruling:

"When the government won't do anything about it, and the courts give us no remedy, then people are going to start taking matters into their own hands. And believe me someone is going to get hurt," Snyder told CBS News anchor Katie Couric. "And when the blood starts flowing, let it be on the Supreme Court Justices' hands."

patteeu
03-03-2011, 12:15 AM
The burden in the statute is pretty high, way more than mere ordinary words:



But in any event isn't it out of character for you to implore the federal courts to overturn the will of the people of Maryland to govern their public through their legislature by creating the statute forbidding this conduct?

I don't think they should overturn it. I just think a statute like that should be construed pretty narrowly. Reasonable men should be able to endure quite a bit of verbal abuse.

jettio
03-03-2011, 07:36 AM
Surprisingly, I think I agree with Alito on this. I think it's the first time ever.

He persuaded me with this bit of reasoning:



By ignoring the facts presented at trial which Alito nicely sets out that are of a private nature, the majority essentially invades the province of the jury and relitigates the factual findings which appellate courts are not supposed to do unless the facts don't meet a minimal sufficiency of the evidence standard. Like Alito says, some of their statements may have been protected speech, but there are other facts supporting the jury's finding. As Alito relevantly analogizes, does the majority's opinion allow defamatory comments so long as there is a public interest "component" to them?


I agree with some posters that there was emotional invective in Alito's opinion, but it doesn't diminish this legal distinction, IMO.


I agree that the Supreme Court justices are invading the province of the jury to decide the facts.

Whether the statements and actions of the Phelps clan to specifically target the Snyder family to publicize some comments on matters of public concern and some comments that are specifically targetting the Snyder family are fact questions or mixed law-fact questions which the 7th Amendment reserves to the people in the form of a civil jury and not to judges?

To me, it is clear that some of the Phelps' statements would be on matters of public concern, but it is also clear that some of the statements were specifically targetting the Snyder family, and the jury instructions should have been drafted to let the jury decide the fact questions as to which offending statements intentionally inflicted emotional distress and which offending statements would be on matters of public concern.

IMO, the most violated bill of rights right is the 7th Amendment right to have the people in the form of a civil jury decide the fact issues in federal cases. A lot of federal cases that grant judgment as a matter of law or summary judgment violate the 7th Amendment because judges rely on their evaluation of the evidence to decide the fact or mixed law-fact questions and then the judge proclaims that any juror that does not agree with their evaluation of the evidence is an "unreasonable juror"

The whole reason for the 7th amendment is to limit biased judges from deciding the fact questions, but a lot of cases end when biased judges say what the evidence means to them and then say that anyone that sees the evidence differently has to be unreasonable.

chiefsnorth
03-03-2011, 07:38 AM
Shhh. It's a salvage op.

ROFL shhh!!