Thursday, March 3, 2011

The SCOTUS opinion and Fred Phelps - Alito's Dissent

"To Justice Alito, this was really a highjacking of a military funeral by an extreme publicity-seeking group which deliberately engages in outrageous conduct calculated to inflict severe emotional injury on innocent victims in order to garner media attention and access for its message. That is, in Alito's view, Phelps is seizing upon the opportunity presented by military funerals to advance his own agenda, realizing that the very hurtfulness and outrageousness of his conduct is what draws the attention of the media.

Furthermore, as Alito documents at length in his dissent, the Court's opinion glosses over and sanitizes the very personal nature of the attack on Snyder and his family undertaken by Phelps in order to advance his agenda of condemning America's tolerance for religious diversity (much of the Phelps rant is directed at the Catholic Church) and sexual minorities (God Hates Fags, etc.). According to both opinions, among the evidence introduced at trial -- which certainly had to have played a major role in convincing the jury to award substantial compensatory and punitive damages -- was the text of a diatribe against the Snyders published by Phelps on his website as an adjunct to the picketing activity: a vile personalized attack on the Snyders' religious faith. Roberts quoted selectively from a few of the picket signs, while Alito did much more extensive quotation. One reading Roberts' factual summary could come away with the view that Phelps' activities, while offensive, were broadly tolerable, while a reading of Alito's summary would lead a reader to conclude that the jury's decision was probably merited by the evidence before them. But because this appeal from the verdict to the 4th Circuit was brought by Phelps, Phelps got to fashion the question presented for review, and Phelps focused on the picketing, leading the majority of the Court to conclude that they should decide this case without reference to the website diatribe, since the 4th Circuit's decision setting aside the verdict focused on the picketing, which then also became the focus of Snyder's certiorari petition."

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