Friday, March 4, 2011

Court Watching

I went over to the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday to watch the Bullcoming argument and was surprised to get to listen as the Chief Justice read the Court's opinion in the Westboro Baptist Church case (you know, the crazy family that protests at military funerals).  I, along with most of America, I'm sure, wanted the Court to uphold the million-dollar jury award against the church simply due to the outrageous nature of the speech.  However, from what little I recall of First Amendment law, I knew this was all but impossible.

As the Chief Justice read the opinion, ruling in favor of the Westboro church, he made sure that all of us there understood that he took no pleasure in the opinion.  He maintained a look of utter disdain every time he mentioned the church or its "pastor" Mr. Phelps.  In the end, the Court held that because the speech was about public issues, in a public location, and was performed in a peaceful manner, the First Amendment protected the speech.  Chief Justice Roberts definitely made a few verbal jabs at the church and its message, like when he stated that the church's contribution to the public discourse it "negligible."  A victory for the First Amendment, but a loss for common decency.