Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Justices Rule for Protesters at Military Funerals

New York Times
March 2, 2011

The First Amendment protects hateful protests at military funerals, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday in an 8-to-1 decision.

“Speech is powerful,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority. “It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and — as it did here — inflict great pain.”

But under the First Amendment, he went on, “we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker.” Instead, the national commitment to free speech, he said, requires protection of “even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate.”

The decision, from which Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissented, was the latest in a series of muscular First Amendment rulings from the Roberts court. Last year, the court struck down laws limiting speech about politics and making it a crime to distribute depictions of cruelty to animals.