Supreme Court to rule on picketing military funerals

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday granted certiorari [order list, PDF] in three cases. In Snyder v. Phelps [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the court will take up the controversial issue of picketing the funerals of soldiers killed in combat. Reverend Fred Phelps and members of the Westboro Baptist Church [church website; JURIST news archive] have been traveling around the country picketing military funerals in recent years, claiming US soldiers have been killed because America tolerates homosexuals. The court has been asked to consider three issues:

1. Does Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell [opinion text] apply to a private person versus another private person concerning a private matter?

2. Does the First Amendment's freedom of speech tenet trump the First Amendment's freedom of religion and peaceful assembly?

3. Does an individual attending a family member's funeral constitute a captive audience who is entitled to state protection from unwanted communication?
The suit was brought [JURIST report] by the family of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder after Phelps and members of his church picketed his funeral. A federal judge awarded the family [JURIST report] almost $11 million in damages, but the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed, holding [opinion, PDF] that Phelps's speech was protected under the First Amendment [text].

In Bruesewitz v. Wyeth [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the court will consider whether § 22(b)(1) [text] of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986, which expressly preempts certain design defect claims against vaccine manufacturers "if the injury or death resulted from side effects that were unavoidable even though the vaccine was properly prepared and was accompanied by proper directions and warnings," preempts all vaccine design defect claims. The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held [opinion, PDF] that the act preempts all design defect claims.

In National Aeronautics and Space Administration v. Nelson [docket; cert. petition, PDF], the court will determine whether the government violates a federal contract employee's constitutional right to informational privacy when it asks in the course of a background investigation whether the employee has received counseling or treatment for illegal drug use that has occurred within the past year. The court will also consider whether the government violates a federal contract employee's constitutional right to informational privacy when it asks the employee's designated references for any adverse information that may have a bearing on the employee's suitability for employment at a federal facility. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the government had violated the employee's right to privacy, and denied [opinion, PDF] a petition for an en banc rehearing.

 

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