Snyder v. Phelps (Dissenting opinion)

17 Oct

Writing Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case,” following is the full text of Justice Alito’s dissent in Snyder v. Phelps.

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Cite as: 562 U. S. ____ (2011)
ALITO, J., dissenting
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

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No. 09–751
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ALBERT SNYDER, PETITIONER v. FRED W.  PHELPS, S R., ET AL.
ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT
[March 2, 2011]

JUSTICE ALITO, dissenting.

Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case.

Petitioner Albert Snyder is not a public figure.  He is simply a parent whose son, Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, was killed in Iraq. Mr. Snyder wanted what is surely the right of any parent who experiences such an incalculable loss: to bury his son in peace.  But respondents, members of the Westboro Baptist Church, deprived him of that elementary right.  They first issued a press release and thus turned Matthew’s funeral into a tumultuous media event.  They then appeared at the church, approached as closely as they could without trespassing, and launched a malevolent verbal attack on Matthew and his family at a time of acute emotional vulnerability. As a result, Albert Snyder suffered severe and lasting emotional injury.1  The Court now holds that the First Amendment protected respondents’ right to brutalize Mr. Snyder. I cannot agree.

I

Respondents and other members of their church have
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1 See 580 F. 3d 206, 213–214, 216 (CA4 2009).

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