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Fred Phelps Wins Suit Against Dead Marine’s Dad

Fred Phelps God Hates FagsA father whose Marine son was killed in Iraq has been ordered to pay the court costs of the men who picketed the funeral.

On Friday, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ordered that Albert Snyder of York, Pa., pay costs associated with Fred Phelps’ appeal. Phelps is the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church, which conducted protests at the funeral of Snyder’s son, Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, in Westminster in 2006.

Lawyers for Snyder say the Court of Appeals has ordered him to pay $16,510.80 to Phelps for costs relating to the appeal, despite the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review the Court of Appeals’ decision. They say that Snyder is also struggling to come up with fees associated with filing a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court.

[...]

Summers said there is no timetable for when the costs must be paid, but if his client doesn’t have the money when Phelps requests payment the matter would go into collections. Snyder could lose his property or his wages, Summers said. Summers added that if Snyder pays Phelps’ court costs and then receives a favorable ruling from the Supreme Court, “imagine him trying to get money back from Phelps.”

This is a hard decision to swallow but quite probably the right one legally speaking.  As Steve M points out, two of the three judges on the panel were George W. Bush appointees, so this isn’t some liberal court run amok.

John Cole observes, “I hate the Phelps, but I’m glad the court is ruling that they have the right to spew their venom.”  And, surely, the right to free speech is meaningless if one has to go into bankruptcy fighting lawsuits from people who don’t like the content.

Recall that, in November 2007, a Baltimore jury entered an $11 million judgment against Phelps in this case.  Clearly, the 4th Circuit reversed that judgment.

As I noted at the time, “Given that this was a public place, Phelps and his loathsome horde have a right to assemble and voice their opinions. Still, the jury’s instinct is understandable. Surely, grieving families have a right to bury their dead without being accosted by these vermin.”

As of that writing, “at least 22 states have proposed or enacted laws to limit the rights of protesters at funerals” and Maryland was among them.  That strikes me as a reasonable time, place, and manner restriction on speech that would withstand judicial challenge and, certainly, a better way to handle the situation than families trying to sue protesters.

UPDATEDoug Mataconis points out that,  according to Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 39, “the losing party on appeal pays the appeal costs (meaning the filing fees, transcript fees, and printing fees they incurred, NOT their attorneys fees) of the victorious party. The Court really has no discretion in the matter.”

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. The Q says:

    Wow, what a dilemma for the Fox News people, ….

    Producer: “We need to cover the funeral of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, to show those terrorist loving liberals how patriotic Americans are willing to die for their country…”

    Reporter: “Ah, we just found out that he’s GAY!!!”

    Producer: “Dammit, kill the story. Can’t give our moronic viewers any reason to doubt that gays are anything more than God’s big mistake.”

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  2. James Joyner says:

    Uh, just to be clear: Phelps pickets military funerals and says these soldiers and Marines are dying because God is punishing America for condoning homosexuality. So far as I’m aware, Lance Corporal Snyder was heterosexual.

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  3. Franklin says:

    As of that writing, “at least 22 states have proposed or enacted laws to limit the rights of protesters at funerals” and Maryland was among them.

    It makes me almost physically sick to defend Phelps’ side, but these laws should not be constitutional (although I admittedly don’t know the constitutions of the given 22 states).

    One of the great things about free speech is it allows us to know who the dumbasses are. Every time you put a limit on this sort of thing, these guys go underground and become more insidious like many of the militia groups.

    Liberals and conservatives alike are always whining about somebody restricting their freedom of speech. Well here’s your chance to stand up for it, to show you have actual principles.

    Some local radio guy is fond of saying that it’s easy to do the right thing when it doesn’t hurt you. Well let’s see how you guys do when something offends you deeply even though it is obviously constitutional.

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  4. Raoul says:

    “…this isn’t some liberal court run amok.” Can you be more condescending if you tried?

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  5. michael reynolds says:

    It’s the right decision.

    And if some family member happened to lose it and take a baseball bat to Phelps then a bit of jury nullification would be the right decision, too.

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  6. UlyssesUnbound says:

    “…this isn’t some liberal court run amok.” Can you be more condescending if you tried?

    I didn’t take Dr. Joyner’s response as a condescension. In any political climate, when there is a hard-to-stomach court decision, I think it is a knee-jerk reaction blame it on the opposing side. Predictably, some of the commentariat would leap to the idea of “It’s just these damn liberal courts hating our soldier.”

    Alternatively if conservatives were still in power, I would expect Dr. Joyner would have a similar line about conservative courts run amok, so that liberal commentators wouldn’t just say “It’s conservative courts upholding homophobia.”

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  7. Mithras says:

    Mr. Snyder has been ordered to pay $16,500. You can make a contribution to a fund to defray the cost here.

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  8. steve says:

    Thx Mithras. Done. The Westboro group is scum. (No offense intended to any scum who might be reading this blog.)

    Steve

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  9. It should be noted that in the case involved, the WBC was more than a thousand feet from the funeral and out of direct sight of the mourners. Snyder’s argument was essentially that the mere fact he was aware that somewhere out there someone was publically disagreeing with him was sufficient to trigger millions of dollars in liability.

    Also, what happened to all those Republicans constantly telling us how we need ‘loser pays’ tort reform?

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  10. James, don’t confuse The Q with facts. He’s on a projection roll. He apparently knows nothing about Fred Phelps or Corporal Snyder but has no problem using them to slander others.

    And yes, I know the difference between libel and slander. Comments generally seem more like something said than something written to me.

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  11. I forgot to add that his technique is difficult to distinguish from Fred Phelps’ when you think about it.

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  12. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    The Q, you lie. But then you are a liberal. Why is hate speech protected? If speech is inflammatory and could lead to violence, is that truly protected speech? Kind of like shouting fire in a theater when there is no fire. You are not free to shout epithets at police, why can are you free to call homosexuals fags?

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  13. Also, what happened to all those Republicans constantly telling us how we need ‘loser pays’ tort reform?

    Well, I’m not a Republican, but then again I don’t confuse legal with moral. Legally this may be the correct decision, but it doesn’t seem right. Anyway, the perfect remains the enemy of the good.

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  14. Herb says:

    Mithras read my mind. Thanks.

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  15. Eric Florack says:

    @Q:

    Wow, what a dilemma for the Fox News people, ….

    No. I think Franklin’s got the larger dichotomy, here. Then again, at least he didn’t have to make his up.

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  16. Steve Verdon says:

    And if some family member happened to lose it and take a baseball bat to Phelps then a bit of jury nullification would be the right decision, too.

    I’d go with nullification in such a case as well.

    “…this isn’t some liberal court run amok.” Can you be more condescending if you tried?

    For crying out loud Raoul, HTFU.

    And Franklin is right, I don’t like that Phelps is the beneficiary here, he is despicable, but it is the right decision.

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