A few sketches from today’s Supreme Court arguments in Snyder v. Phelps. Fred W. Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church, whose members are primarily family, have a practice of picketing the funerals of dead soldiers with signs reading “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “Fag Troops” and “God Hates You”. The father of one of those fallen soldiers, Lance Cpl Matthew Snyder, sued the church in court and won, but the judgement was overturned on appeal. The lawyer representing the bereaved father – Sean Summers, pictured below and above – began his argument : “We’re talking about a funeral. Mr. Snyder simply wanted to bury his son in a private, dignified manner”
On the other side, with the bigots, is the 1st Amendment freedom of speech. Numerous news organizations and First Amendment organizations filed briefs supporting the Kansas church. Arguing the free speech side was the daughter of the church’s pastor, Margie Phelps, pictured below.
After the argument Ms. Phelps predicted her side would win. “They’re going to uphold the law of the land that you may express a contrary view in a public forum without being sued.”
Dahlia Lithwick sums it up best here.
“The First Amendment does not protect you from criticism or even nasty phone calls” said Justice Scalia in questioning a lawyer representing Referendum 71 petition-signers who want to remain anonymous.
The attorney for the petitioners, James Bopp, Jr. argued that signing the referendum petition, which seeks to repeal Washington’s “everything but marriage” domestic partners rights law, is an exercise of free speech protected by the First Amendment. “No person should suffer harassment from participating in our political process,” Bopp said.
Washington state’s position is that signing a referendum petition is a legislative act. “The petitions for a referendum or an initiative are telling the government to do something” argued Washington’s Attorney General Robert McKenna.
The case is Doe #1 v. Reed.
Georgetown law professor David D. Cole tried to persuade the Justices that his client, the Humanitarian Law Project, was only engaged in benign, nonviolent activities when it assisted the PKK, a Kurdish separatist group on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations. A 1996 law makes it a crime to provide “material support” to such groups.
Cole argued that the kind of speech activities, such as legal assistance, that the Humanitarian Law Project wants to do should be protected by the 1st Amendment.