Supreme Court rules in favor of Westboro protests

An 8-1 decision with Alito dissenting

As contemptable as the Phelps clan may be, this is the right decision. Free speech is free speech.

A quote from Roberts, who wrote the majority:

Roberts is right. They were on public property, 1000 feet away from the funeral behind a fence. They did not physically disrupt the funeral, and their speech alone, as offensive as it might be to most people, is neither illegal nor tortiable.

I’m proud of the Court for getting this one right and for doing it decisively.

As much as I hate to agree with anything that even touches the Phelpses, this was the right decision. Whether you’re an Illinois Nazi or a Kansas Douchebag, you have First Amendment rights.

This decision just confirms my view that Alito is the worst member of the Court.

I was just reading about this. It’s worth noting that the case was about a lawsuit filed against Westboro for emotional distress. It does not deal with laws that require protestesr to keep a certain distance away from funerals, for example. It says that their repugnant speech may have distressed the family of the late soldier, but even so, the First Amendment protects their right to that speech and so they cannot be sued for the pain their demonstrations cause. I think most states have adopted what are basically anti-Westboro laws that require protestors to stay a specified distance from funeral, and I don’t have a problem with that from a First Amendment standpoint.

I also agreed with this decision. It’s what I thought the decision should be, once I found out how distal the contact was between the protest and the participants in the funeral.

Are there really people out there (who are informed and) who disagree? (Other than Alito of course.)

I loathe Phelps and Westboro and anything to do with them with the heat of a nova - and I believe this is the right decision. The ruling didn’t respond to distance laws, just to whether or not the protestors had the First Amendment right to be there at all.

I have to support free speech that I might find personally repugnant if I want to be allowed to express myself in speech that people might find personally repugnant.

A few days ago, I saw Bill O’Reilly doing a segment on this case and ranting about how “hopefully,” the Court would rule against Westboro. I think Hannity wanted that ruling too. The Fox News screaming heads became very concerned about Phelps speech after they started picketing the funerals of service people. Not so much when they were just targeting AIDS victims and murdered homos.

It is amusing that four members of the Court who insist that the First Amendment protects the right of Phelps and his “church” to protest at funerals don’t think it protects the Sierra Club from being prosecuted for handing out leaflets criticizing political candidates nor that it protects documentaries from being banned.

Still, I’m glad they made the right decision in this case.

Can you clarify what you’re talking about? I’m not familiar with any of that.

And of course this is the right decision. Say what you will about those WBC folks, many of them are lawyers and they are scrupulous about obeying all relevant ordinances. It’s a shame that people are offended, but the constitution doesn’t protect you from being offended.

Correct decision. My opinion basically conforms with the OP and most of the replies. Phelps is a loon, but ultimately, his speech should be protected. Free speech is a fundamental right. Not having your feelings hurt during a funeral isn’t.

I think it’s a reference to Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission – a case which was not about the Sierra Club, but about another nonprofit, and so which would presumably equally apply to the Sierra Club.

To go further on this point, Roberts explicitly endorsed those laws. And he said one of the reasons for the majority decision is the fact that the WBC jerks were complying with those laws - they were 1,000 feet from the funeral and were protesting quietly. So there’s no Constitutional problem with keeping protestors away from funerals, but there is an issue with suing them for saying hurtful things (although other factors can be involved).

Agreed. However, Alito does make a good point. What of the torts against Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress? Does today’s opinion eliminate that as a specific tort when it relates only to speech?

The Sierra Club was actually fined under McCain-Feingold in 2006 for handing out leaflets criticizing the Republican Senator from Florida.

According to the four Justices who voted against Citizens United and ruled that the government could suppress documentaries critical of political candidates, then the Sierra Club was also rightly punished.

Frankly, I think Citizens United was a great blow for free speech and the four who opposed it have a lot of explaining to do, particularly since, with the exception of Sotomayor(who wasn’t on the court at the time) those same justices had ruled that the KKK couldn’t be prosecuted for burning crosses, even when the intent of that was clearly to intimidate black people.

If I recall my law school torts class from lo those many years ago, the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress requires there to be some sort of threat of imminent physical injury (i.e., battery) to someone that led to the emotional distress. But I might be wrong about that.

I don’t think so. Roberts said that it didn’t apply in this case because the WBC wasn’t saying anything personal about the plaintiffs. They weren’t specifically saying anything about the decedent or the family, but only making general “public” statements about homosexuals, the government, etc. If I understand correctly, the Majority was saying that you can’t be sued for emotional distress for those kinds of general, non-personal statements, not that such a thing can’t be tortiable at all.

I’m sure the Phelps’ know enough about the law to be able to walk that line.

Anyway, I believe that in the Jerry Falwell case against Hustler, it was ruled that protected First Amendment speech (such as a parody or Phelps’s speech) can’t be the basis for an intentional infliction claim.

According to Wikipedia, the tort might apply to non-protected speech, such as falsely telling someone that his or her child had been killed in an accident.

The degree of it, I believe, varies from state to state.

While I agree with the decision, I don’t think Alito is coming at his opinion from left field. He makes some decent points that are not immaterial and worthy of deiscussion.

I’m pretty sure that they were, though. Weren’t they saying that Snyder was “in hell”, and that Snyder senior “taught Matthew to defy his creator”, “raised him for the devil” and “taught him that God was a liar”? Those seem like personal statements to me.