U.S. Supreme Court Opens Term with New Justice & Interesting Docket
The SCOTUS bench will feature three sitting female justices for the first time in it's storied history. Seems like just yesterday that President Obama installed Sonya Sotomayor on the bench. On Monday, Elena Kagan takes the bench for the first time.
One of the more electrifying cases selected by the Court for argument this term is Snyder v Phelps. This case addresses free-speech under the First Amendment in the context of protesters picketing near the funeral of a Marine killed in Iraq.
The father of the slain Marine from Maryland, Albert Snyder, won an $11 million jury verdict against the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas. The case wound-up in federal court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction (all parties being from different states). The verdict was reversed on appeal to the 4th Circuit on First Amendment grounds.
The Westboro Baptist Church, "practices a 'fire and brimstone' fundamentalist religious faith" according to the 4th Circuit. The church asserts that God hates gays, and is punishing America for its tolerance of gays; particularly in the United States military. Hence, the protests at military funerals.
The determined crusaders from the small mid-American church are mostly the family and friends of the church's founder and only pastor, Fred Phelps, Sr. His daughter will be arguing before the SCOTUS on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Mr. Snyder is represented by Craig Trebilcock, a University of Michigan Law School graduate whom I had the pleasure to know as a fraternity brother at the UM in the early 1980s.
Both positions in this case are supported by an impressive array of amicus briefs. More than 40 U.S. Senators and the Veterans of Foreign Wars supported Petitioner Snyder with their briefs, while the ACLU and the NYT, among many others, filed briefs on behalf of Pastor Phelps and his lawyer daughter.
Other interesting cases include Schwarzenegger v Entertainment Merchants Association, also involving the First Amendment in the context of selling violent video games to minor children. In another case from California, Schwarzenegger v Plata raises the issue of the horrible overcrowding of the penitentiaries which led a panel of federal judges to release nearly 40,000 inmates.
The LawBlogger will be tracking these cases and we will be providing updates in the weeks and months to come.