On the Docket, Georgetown’s Supreme Court society, made its first trip of the semester to the high court this week. The group of ten students camped on Monday and Tuesday nights to secure seats for the oral arguments in Snyder v. Phelps.
After Fred Phelp‘s virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church protested the private funeral of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Synder, who was killed in Iraq four years ago, Snyder’s family sued the church for defamation and the “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”
As a “captive audience,” the family argues, and the church’s free speech should be limited, even though protesters stood outside of the 1000-foot radius established by Congress.
“No matter which way the court goes, it’s going to be a dramatic rewriting of the First Amendment, [which] the court has not categorically supported,” Parul Aggarwal (SFS ’12), On the Docket treasurer, said. “I believe that the captive audience theory applies even at one thousand feet.”
On Tuesday night, On the Docket met Glynis Bethel, who after inviting her family to the front of the line, informed the students, “This is Snyder v. God.” Later, she added, “Santa Claus is Satan.”
The concrete sidewalk in front of the Supreme Court is neither the warmest or softest surface for sleeping. Nonetheless, students placed empty pizza boxes on the ground and set up a cozy nest, complete with a wall of umbrellas to shield from sprinklers that went off at night.
At 5:45 AM, twenty-six members of Westboro Baptist Church arrived. Shirley Phelps-Roper, spokeswoman of the Church, spoke with Vox.
“The make-up of this court is unique—six Catholics and three Jews,” Phelps-Roper said. “And…priests rape children and the Jews killed Jesus.”
By 9:00 AM, approximately 120 people had gathered outside the Supreme Court. Only fifty people—including every On the Docket member—were admitted to the court to hear the hour-long arguments.