Snyder v. Phelps: A Hard Case That Did Not Make Bad Law

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In Snyder v. Phelps, the Court stood by the First Amendment in hard times. A religious group conducted a protest some 1,000 feet from a fallen marine's funeral, holding such pickets as “God Hates the USA,” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” and “You're Going to Hell.” Despite the empathy that virtually anyone would feel for the marine's grieving father, the Court held by a vote of eight to one that his action for intentional infliction of emotional distress and intrusion upon seclusion could not survive, owing largely to the public nature of the issues the protesters had raised. “Hard cases,” a British judge once wrote, “are apt to introduce bad law.”' “Great cases,” Justice Holmes elaborated, “like hard cases make bad law. For great cases are called great, not by reason of their real importance in shaping the law of the future, but because of some accident of immediate overwhelming interest which appeals to the feelings and distorts the judgment.” The “accident of immediate overwhelming interest” at work in Snyder v. Phelps was the very real and compelling humanitarian claim presented by that grieving father, Albert Snyder. This article is a brief description and largely positive critique of Snyder.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)57-80
JournalCato Supreme Court Review
StatePublished - Jan 1 2011


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