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Alito is court’s lonely voice on free speech

WASHINGTON — Alone among his colleagues, Justice Samuel Alito chose privacy over free speech Wednesday in the Supreme Court’s consideration of protests at military funerals.

The picketers who showed up at the March 2006 funeral in Westminster for Matthew Snyder deprived his father, Albert Snyder, of the “elementary right” to bury his son in peace, Alito said.

They should find no cover in the First Amendment, he argued.

With his second solo dissent in a free-speech case in as many years, Alito appears to have embraced a role as the court’s contrarian on such issues.

The rest of the court relied on the First Amendment to say that Snyder could not prevail in his lawsuit against members of the Westboro Baptist Church who picketed his son’s funeral.

Alito countered that church members have countless ways to express their belief that the deaths of U.S. soldiers are God’s way of punishing the nation for its tolerance of homosexuality.

“It does not follow, however, that they may intentionally inflict severe emotional injury on private persons at a time of intense emotional sensitivity by launching vicious verbal attacks that make no contribution to public debate,” Alito wrote.

A year ago, Alito also was on his own when the court struck down a federal ban on videos that depict graphic violence against animals.

“The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, but it most certainly does not protect violent criminal conduct, even if engaged in for expressive purposes,” Alito said.

The law in question “was enacted not to suppress speech but to prevent horrific acts of animal cruelty — in particular, the creation and commercial exploitation of ‘crush videos,’ a form of depraved entertainment that has no social value,” he said.

In another case that has yet to be decided, Alito also appeared willing to reject a First Amendment challenge to a California law banning the sale or rental of violent video games to children.

“Let me be clear about exactly what your argument is. Your argument is that there is nothing that a state can do to limit minors’ access to the most violent, sadistic, graphic video game that can be developed. That’s your argument?” he said to a lawyer for the video game industry when the court heard argument four months ago.