In the past few months, the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has heard oral arguments in several noteworthy cases which could have profound impacts on various issues from freedom of speech and freedom of religion to privacy rights of corporations and immigration reform. Continue to watch our website for additional posting summaries and updates on these potentially landmark cases. First up — Snyder v. Phelps.
Snyder v. Phelps
(Oral Argument held on October 6, 2010)
The facts of this case have been all over the news in various forms since 2006 when Albert Snyder's son, Marine Lance Corporal Matthew A. Snyder, was killed in action while deployed in Iraq. Little did Snyder know that his son's tragic death would lead to one of the most watched Supreme Court cases in years, implicating the United States' sacred freedoms of religion and freedom of speech.
Basic Facts: At Matthew Snyder's military funeral, well known protester Fred Phelps and his follower's from the Westboro Baptist Church (known for disrupting military funerals all over the United States with anti-homosexuality protests) picketed carrying inflammatory signs and later published a controversial poem allegedly about Matthew Snyder's upbringing on the WBC's website.
Previous Litigation: Snyder successfully filed suit against Phelps and WBC for intentional infliction of emotion distress, invasion of privacy, and conspiracy based on their actions related to Matthew Snyder's funeral and was awarded $2.9 million in compensatory damages and $8 million in punitive damages from the jury at trial. On appeal, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the trial court judgment citing first amendment grounds and stating that Phelp's speech was protected as a result. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals also ordered Snyder to pay Phelp's legal bills of more than $16,000.
Question for the Court: The Supreme Court now must determine whether the First Amendment's freedom of speech guarantee should outweigh an individual's right to freedom of religion and peaceful assembly, as well as related issues such as whether a funeral should be afforded the same level of privacy one expects to receive in his home or is a public forum and whether the parents of a fallen soldier are "public figures" such that they have lesser privacy rights.