U.S. Supreme Court

‘Fire and Brimstone’ Lawyer Bettered Her Opponent in Funeral Protest Case, Observers Say

In her first U.S. Supreme Court appearance, gay-protesting lawyer Margie Phelps managed to tone down the “fire and brimstone.”

Phelps “commanded both the facts and the law” as she argued that the First Amendment protects members of the Westboro Baptist Church who protest at military funerals, according to McClatchy Newspapers. More than one court observer has concluded that Phelps bettered her Supreme Court opponent, lawyer Sean Summers, the story says. The National Law Journal also noted a good courtroom performance, reporting that Phelps “held her own.”

The Associated Press calls Phelps “a study in contrasts.” At her $66,000-a-year job as an administrator at the Kansas Department of Corrections, she is “known for her calm demeanor in helping former prison inmates return to society,” the story says. At funeral protests, she stomps on the America flag to espouse her church’s belief that God is punishing America for its tolerance of gays. Phelps took a leave of absence from her job on Friday.

At issue in the case is whether the First Amendment permits the father of a fallen soldier to collect a $5 million verdict for emotional distress against church members who picketed at the funeral. Phelps argues that the father is a public figure since he gave interviews to the press before the funeral. The New York Times and USA Today have additional coverage of the arguments.

After oral arguments, Phelps showed her judgmental side. “Your destruction is imminent,” she told journalists on the steps of the court, according to the McClatchy account. “And when it comes, don’t stand there and say the servants of God didn’t warn you.”

The case is Snyder v. Phelps.

Prior coverage:

ABA Journal: “Grave Encounters: Al Snyder’s son died a Marine, but his funeral has become a First Amendment issue”

ABA Journal: “Picket Fencing: Laws Blunting Church’s Protests Worry First Amendment Experts”

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