So how did yesterday’s Westboro Baptist/FirstAmendment oral arguments go in front of the Supreme Court? Like this: The justices felt bad for the Snyder family, which had to have the funeral for their military son turned into a public spectacle. (Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “This is a case about exploiting a private family’s grief.” Elena Kagan: Westboro was “taking advantage of a private funeral to express their views.” Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer said they want to see people behind outrageous attacks sued.) But the justices also indicated they were going to be very cautious (and rightfully so) about doing anything that would chip away at free speech rights. (Sonia Sotomayor: “What case stands for the proposition that public speech or speech on a public matter directed toward a private person should be treated differently depending upon the recipient of the speech?”)
A ruling will come sometime before the Court lets out in June, which offers many months of possible speculation. But I suspect we’re going to see Westboro — and the media organizations that filed amicus briefs on their behalf — succeed. After all, Albert Snyder, who was holding a funeral for his son Matthew, didn’t even know Westboro was there until he saw the television reports later.
Any win will be thanks to Margie Phelps, Westboro member and the family church’s attorney, who argued in front of the justices — then went outside to scream at the crowd (“Your destruction is imminent. And when it comes, don’t stand there and say the servants of God didn’t warn you.”) and lead the Phelps clan in a rendition of Ozzie Osbourne’s “Crazy Train.” The singer wasn’t so pleased.