What do you get when you mix issues regarding a fallen soldier, free speech, homophobia and gays in the military and throw in hatemonger pastor Fred Phelps and Larry Flynt’s famous court battle with Jerry Fallwell? A big legal tangle, that’s what, and one that the Supreme Court was puzzling over on Wednesday. —KA
Supreme Court justices expressed empathy Wednesday for a father whose Marine Corps son was killed in Iraq and whose funeral was protested by fundamentalist pastor Fred Phelps and his anti-gay followers.
“This is a case about exploiting a private family’s grief,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said.
Yet, the scope of the justices’ questions during the hour-long session revealed the difficulty of the case and the reality that the court’s free-speech precedents make it hard for individuals to claim they have been harmed by even horrific statements regarding public issues.
Even with their sympathy for the bereaved father, the justices, including key vote Anthony Kennedy, were clearly struggling with how to avoid a ruling that encroaches on legitimate, although hateful, protest messages.