Snyder v. Phelps, the Supreme Court's Speech-Tort Jurisprudence, and Normative Considerations

16 Pages Posted: 18 Nov 2010 Last revised: 3 Jan 2011

Deana Pollard-Sacks

Texas Southern University - Thurgood Marshall School of Law

Date Written: November 17, 2010

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

Pollard-Sacks, Deana, Snyder v. Phelps, the Supreme Court's Speech-Tort Jurisprudence, and Normative Considerations (November 17, 2010). Yale Law Journal Online, Vol. 120, p. 193, 2010. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1710698

Deana Pollard-Sacks (Contact Author)

Texas Southern University - Thurgood Marshall School of Law ( email )

3100 Cleburne Street
Houston, TX 77004
United States

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