Snyder v. Phelps, the Supreme Court's Speech-Tort Jurisprudence, and Normative Considerations
Texas Southern University - Thurgood Marshall School of Law
November 17, 2010
Yale Law Journal Online, Vol. 120, p. 193, 2010
In Snyder v. Phelps, members of the Westboro Baptist Church exploited a young marine’s untimely death to further their “religious” message that “God Hates Fags” and retaliates against America for tolerating homosexuality by killing American soldiers. A jury awarded the marine’s father, Mr. Snyder, $10.9 million for invasion of privacy and emotional distress after the church members disseminated extremely hateful and personalized attacks against him and his family, which the district court reduced to $5 million. The Fourth Circuit reversed on First Amendment grounds and assessed costs against Mr. Snyder. The Supreme Court is reviewing the case to determine whether civil liability based on invasive, emotionally injurious speech violates the First Amendment. This essay discusses the Court’s existing speech-tort jurisprudence and the normative aspects of the case that the Court should consider in applying existing precedent, such as the epidemic of bullying and hate-motivated crimes and torts in contemporary American society. The essay concludes that both precedent and normative considerations warrant reversing the Fourth Circuit and recognizing a civil remedy for Mr. Snyder.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 16
Date posted: November 18, 2010 ; Last revised: January 3, 2011