Supreme Court Decisions Affect Service Members, Vets

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. 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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