While the majority of coverage regarding the Snyder v. Phelps decision has swirled around the distinction between the majority’s characterization of the speech as a matter of “public concern” and the dissent contention that it was targeted solely at the Snyder family, Dahlia Lithwick at Slate assesses the decision from a different point of view.
She notes that the court deliberately sidestepped a increasingly blurred line between public and private spaces — a topic that greatly interested both Breyer and Alito during oral arguments. Specifically, the court avoids the issue of whether today’s media environment can inflame any private utterance into public speech. “The Internet has created the possibility of a kind of First Amendment butterfly effect, wherein a Quran burning in a Florida parking lot can launch a revolution half a world away.”
Lithwick further explores the idea that both Thomas and Alito’s views of the media may have been greatly influenced by the experience of their respective Senatorial confirmation hearings, “which they found to be painful and humiliating.
“They both appear to believe that allowing a camera into a room transforms any event into a “raucous media event” (to use Alito’s language from the Westboro Church opinion). As Shon Hopwood suggests, in describing the Snyder funeral in his dissent, Alito could have been describing his own experience with the press at his hearings. And I suspect that they will continue to find that whenever the media intrudes into private places, “the wounding process” (again, quoting Alito) is inevitable.”
Lithwick’s piece is fascinating, and I would encourage you to read the whole thing HERE.