From Retirement, Justice John Paul Stevens Dissents in Funeral Protests Case

May 5, 2011 6:02pm

ABC News' Ariane de Vogue (@arianedevogue) reports:   Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said in a speech on Tuesday that had he still been on the bench, he would have ruled against the members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, who had held provocative anti-gay protests at military funerals. An 8-1 majority on the Supreme Court said that the First Amendment  protects the speech of the church members and threw out  damages awarded to Albert Snyder, who first sued the church for emotional distress he endured after it protested at his son’s funeral. His son, Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, died in Iraq in 2006. In a speech given to the Federal Bar Council in New York City, Stevens said that the case "involved a verbal assault on private citizens attending the funeral of their son."  Stevens praised Justice Samuel Alito, who issued the sole dissent in the case and said, “to borrow Sam’s phrase, the First Amendment does not transform solemn occasions like funerals into ‘free fire zones.’" Alito wrote in his dissent, "Our profound national commitment to free and open debate, is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case." It is rare for a Supreme Court Justice in retirement to comment on how he would have voted had he still been on the  bench. But at 91 years old, Stevens is traveling the country delivering speech and working on a book. ABC News' front row reports and analysis from inside the Supreme Court.

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