Supreme Court To Determine First Amendment Boundaries In Snyder v Phelps

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Supreme Court to determine First Amendment boundaries in Snyder v. PhelpsThe First Amendment will be the focus of a high-profile case that goes before the nation's highest court this week.

During the first week of the Supreme Court's 2010-2011 term, opening arguments were made in Snyder v Phelps. The court will determine if the freedom of speech and peaceful assembly rights protect a group of protesters who demonstrated near a fallen soldier's funeral in 2006. The soldier's father, Albert Snyder, is claiming emotional distress and believes that such protests should not be allowed.

The Phelps family of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., is known for picketing near military funerals, holding signs that have slogans such as "Thank God For Dead Soldiers." The family has expressed their conviction that God is punishing American soldiers because of the country's tolerance for homosexuality.

"A lot of people have an understandable visceral reaction against this speech, but the First Amendment often protects speech that is vile," Eugene Volokh, a professor at the UCLA School of Law wrote in a brief to the Supreme Court.

The court's newest term marks the debut of Justice Elena Kagan, who is one of three women on the nine-justice panel. Kagan, the former Solicitor General in the Justice Department, was nominated by President Barack Obama to the Supreme Court in March and sworn in on Aug. 7. During her confirmation process, she faced significant opposition from many conservative lawmakers who painted her as an activist judge with a liberal agenda. 

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