Supreme Court sides with Westboro, vindicating Cuccinelli
There are few people in America that don’t sympathize with the family of Matthew Snyder. Snyder died fighting for his country in Iraq and when his memory was honored with a funeral, his family was forced to endure protests from the controversial Westboro Baptist Church.
Westboro and their lightning rod leader, Fred Phelps protest just about everything. Churches, high schools, museums anything that they can pin back to a homosexual agenda in the United States. They are widely considered to be extremist and outside of mainstream American thought.
And while most Americans were annoyed with, but tolerated their frequent protests it seemed to cross an imaginary line of discretion when they started protesting at military funerals. Matthew Snyder’s father Albert was so upset by the indignity that he took the Phelps family to court. His argument was that Westboro’s right to freedom of speech went too far, causing him emotional distress.
The Snyders won the first round of the court battle. They were awarded a $5 million verdict. But that decision was quickly turned back by a federal appeals court in Richmond. Not only did the Snyders lose the appeal, but they were also ordered to pay the court costs of the Phelps family.
That is where the Supreme Court got involved. They agreed to hear the case last spring. The announcement by the highest court in the land brought with it a flood of support for the Snyders. That support led to briefs from influential leaders like Senators and Members of Congress.
Joining in support of the Snyder case was every single Attorney General in America except for Maine and Virginia. At the time Ken Cuccinelli said he deplored the behavior of Westboro Baptist Church, but the First Amendment protects all forms of speech.
His decision to not join the Snyder’s effort was vilified across the country and used as a baton for political attacks by Virginia Democrats. Del. Ward Armstrong appeared on NBC12 First at 4 to attack Cuccinelli. He said the Attorney General’s decision to sit the Snyder v. Phelps case out, was an example of his extremist positions on a number of topics.
Fast forward to today. The Supreme Court of the United States had the final say. They did not side with the Snyder family, the entire U.S. Senate and 48 Attorneys General. No, in a convincing 8-1 decision they agreed with Ken Cuccinelli.
In his statement on behalf of the winning decision Chief Justice John Roberts wrote ‘Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and—as it did here—inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker.”
Cuccinelli said that his willingness to stand apart from the pack is an example of the type of Attorney General that he is, focused on the rule of law, not an agenda.
“My office is committed to the rule of law and to the principles of the First Amendment,” Cuccinelli said in a written statement. “We agree wholeheartedly with the chief justice, and that is why we declined to join the amicus brief in this case, even when doing so was decidedly unpopular.”
But will this act of courage help Cuccinelli with his biggest detractors? Many feel that he is driven by an ideological agenda that has more to do with his personal convictions than upholding the law. It will be interesting to see how he uses this development to make the case that he is a responsible Attorney General, not someone hellbent on carrying out a political agenda. The result could play a big role in his political future.
Extended clips from our interview with Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli can be found below: