Snyder v. Phelps (Dissenting opinion)

17 Oct

10

SNYDER v. PHELPS
ALITO, J., dissenting

reasons, but none is sound.

First—and most important—the Court finds that “theoverall thrust and dominant theme of [their] demonstration spoke to” broad public issues. Ante, at 8.  As I have attempted to show, this portrayal is quite inaccurate; respondents’ attack on Matthew was of central importance. But in any event, I fail to see why actionable speech should be immunized simply because it is interspersed with speech that is protected. The First Amendment allows recovery for defamatory statements that are interspersed with nondefamatory statements on matters of public concern, and there is no good reason why respondents’ attack on Matthew Snyder and his family should be treated differently.

Second, the Court suggests that respondents’ personal attack on Matthew Snyder is entitled to First Amendment protection because it was not motivated by a private grudge, see ante, at 9, but I see no basis for the strange distinction that the Court appears to draw.  Respondents’ motivation—“to increase publicity for its views,” ibid.—did not transform their statements attacking the character of a private figure into statements that made a contribution to debate on matters of public concern.  Nor did their publicity-seeking motivation soften the sting of their attack. And as far as culpability is concerned, one might well think that wounding statements uttered in the heat of a private feud are less, not more, blameworthy than similar statements made as part of a cold and calculated strategy to slash a stranger as a means of attracting public attention.

Third, the Court finds it significant that respondents’ protest occurred on a public street, but this fact alone should not be enough to preclude IIED liability.  To be sure, statements made on a public street may be less likely to satisfy the elements of the IIED tort than statements made on private property, but there is no reason

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