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Supreme Court Decisions Affect Service Members, Vets

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 2, 2011 – The U.S. Supreme Court has issued three decisions with military connections over the last two days.

In what may be the most contentious of the cases, the court ruled that members of a Westboro, Kan., church have the right to picket at funerals for service members killed in action.

Yesterday, the court reversed a lower court decision and decided a reservist had been the victim of bias due to his military service. Also yesterday, the court ruled that Veterans Affairs Department deadlines for veterans applying for benefits do not have “jurisdictional consequences.”

In the first case, Albert Snyder, the father of Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq, sued the Westboro Baptist Church for picketing his son’s funeral. A jury found the Westboro group -- which says it conducts the protests because God hates the United States for its tolerance of homosexuality -- liable for inflicting emotional distress on the Snyder family, intrusion upon seclusion and civil conspiracy.

The Supreme Court voted 8-1 to reverse the lower court ruling, saying the Constitution’s First Amendment shields the group. The First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

In one of yesterday’s decisions, the court ruled in favor of Army reservist Vincent Staub, who was fired in 2004 from his civilian position as an angiography technician at Proctor Hospital in Peoria, Ill., because of his military obligations.

Staub sued the hospital under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, which forbids employers from denying employment, re-employment, retention in employment, promotion or any benefit of employment based on a reservist’s military obligations. A jury found the hospital liable, but the 7th Circuit Court reversed the decision.

The Supreme Court reversed the reversal yesterday, holding that if a supervisor motivated by antimilitary hostility performs an act intended to cause an adverse employment action, the employer is liable under the law.

In yesterday’s other decision, the court found that the deadline set up by the VA Department for filing supplemental disability benefits does not have jurisdictional consequence. The case -- brought by David Henderson, who since has died -- hinged on Henderson missing a 120-day deadline by 15 days. The court found for veterans, saying Congress regarded the deadline as a claim-processing rule.


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The opinions expressed in the following comments do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Defense.

3/8/2011 7:12:08 AM
I wished the Reservist decidion would have come earlier. I was denied civil service promotion because of my reservist status ATat a DoD Agency, no less. It is well-known that managers who are not current or former military, have repeatedly discriminated against both active and reservists employees.
- S Dansker, Virginia

3/7/2011 10:21:46 AM
I am neither Democrat/Republican/Independent as these terms are currently used; they pigeonhole comments. This decision disturbs me. NO ONE has the right to infringe on a burial ceremony, be it civilian or military. If these protesters(some are children...?)wish to write to a news outlet, let them; THAT is free speech. Let them express an opinion that I vehemently disagree with, but not in my face or the ceremonies of our soldiers and civilians. Their voices can be HEARD, but their presence should not be seen. I served as Senior Doorgunner and was also a Drug Counselor in B/229th AHB, 1st Air Cav, Viet Nam, Sept '71 to Aug'72. Although I was not in favor of the war,I enlisted. I would have been opposed to anyone demonstrating at anyone's funeral. Common sense, human decency as stated by the previous reader needs to prevail...where are they?
- "Rosie" Rosato, New Awlinz, Louisiana

3/3/2011 1:26:30 PM
This one breaks my heart after 28 years of military service. Those of you out there who feel the same way, please remember that we have a sworn oath to protect all, repeat all, of the citizens. Ironically, I am a Baptist by faith. ANON.
- alvin gray, USA

3/2/2011 5:24:14 PM
"The biggest modern error in understanding freedom of speech comes from viewing it as a right to be heard (or seen) in every imaginable situation. Such was never the purpose of the constitutional freedom." http://federalistblog.us/2008/10/freedom_of_speech_and_of_the_press.html
- Jim Allen, Arizona

3/2/2011 4:48:08 PM
I'm not an attorney, thank God, just a citizen and a former Vietnam combat vet (Navy Corpsman, 1/7, First Marine Division, 1968-69). I am unfamiliar with the legal technicalities that went into this strange decision, but I am very familiar with the kind of environment where Marine Cpl Matthew Snyder died. If the First Amendment does not protect the rights of grieving military families, and instead, can be used to protect the rights of a radical cult posing as a religion and almost every media entity that quietly filed Friend of the Court briefs supporting this cult, then we have definitely lost our way as a nation. At some point, justice, common sense, and human decency have to prevail or we dishonor the people we send in harm's way to protect us and the families that support them.
- max, Maryland

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