Supreme Court rules in favor of Westboro Baptist

Phelps pickets from a July 2010 Dallas appearance

By an 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the right of Westboro Baptist Church to picket military funerals, according to Associated Press.

From the decision:

“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.”

The father of a Marine killed in Iraq in 2006 sued the Phelps clan for picketing at the funeral. He called the group’s actions targeted harassment and invasion of privacy. The purpose of the picketing was to purposely inflict pain.

In a jury trial, the father was awarded $11 million that was reduced to $5 million by the judge. On appeal, the ruling was overturned and the judgment thrown out. This ruling upholds the appeals court.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion. The dissenting vote came from Justice Samuel Alito.

A group of 21 news organizations filed a brief siding with the Phelps group based on preserving free speech rights.

—  David Taffet

Supreme Court votes 8-1 to allow animal cruelty … and you'll never guess who dissented

Cat holdup

I would expect Antonin Scalia to buy kitty snuff films. But where was the wise Latina? Hmmm … not so wise today, in my opinion.

OK, slap me. For the first time in … well, ever, I’m agreeing with Justice Samuel Alito.

In an 8-1 vote today, the Supreme Court struck down a federal law that made selling videos with depictions of animal cruelty illegal. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority that the law infringed on free speech rights.

Roberts wrote that the government’s case for limiting First Amendment coverage of free speech was “startling and dangerous.” We agree.

But the 1999 law was written in response to “crush videos” in which women dig their high heels into kittens and other small animals.

“There are myriad federal and state law concerning the proper treatment of animals, but many of them are not designed to guard against animal cruelty,” Roberts wrote. “Protections of endangered species, for example, restrict even the humane wounding or killing of living animals.”

So the opinion doesn’t actually say that intentional animal cruelty is OK. It says that the person selling videos of it is not doing something unconstitutional.

In his minority opinion, Alito wrote that the law banning depictions of animals being mutilated, tortured or killed was intended “to prevent horrific acts of animal cruelty — in particular, the creation and commercial exploitation of ‘crush videos,’ a form of depraved entertainment that has no social value.”

One objection the majority had to the law was its overly broad nature. The Humane Society, which had filed a friend of the court brief, said they hoped Congress would write a new, narrower version.

This case does not bode well for the father of a soldier killed in Iraq. In that case, the father sued Fred Phelps for inflicting harm to him and his family during his son’s funeral. A jury awarded him $3 million but an appeals court vacated the judgment and charged the father with court costs. The Supreme Court is due to hear the case pitting free speech against inflicting harm during a period of grieving.

If the Supreme Court finds that free speech trumps killing animals, then surely free speech trumps one man’s right to grieve without hearing protests.

—  David Taffet