Back in October, I wondered whether this case would add to the growing list of personal rights for corporations. The short answer is no. The Court held that corporations are not entitled to a “personal privacy” exemption from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. 5 U. S. C. §552(b)(7)(C).
This opinion is really interesting because Chief Justice Roberts’ analysis mostly applies principles of grammar, etymology, and common sense language usage to the word “personal.” I think there may be more references to the OED than to caselaw in here–English Lit Nerds (like myself) will love this. [Note: Roberts was a history major]. Under this framework, the Court finds that adjectives do not always reflect the meaning of corresponding nouns, “personal” is not a defined term in the statute, “personal” ordinarily refers to individuals and is in fact often used to distinguish from business or corporate-related situations, and that it does not have a separate legal meaning that implicates corporate personhood.
Ken previewed this case at the beginning of the season, and I think it’s probably the most high profile case this term. By now, you’ve probably already heard that the Court held in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church. I find this opinion both exhilarating and depressing: on the one hand, I’m proud that we have such a strong and unwavering commitment to protecting speech in this country. Events in the Middle East right now remind me to be thankful for the right to free speech. On the other hand, I am very tired of this grotesque, hate-mongering group of freaks getting media coverage.
On that note, I’ll keep it short: the Court essentially ruled that the speech was concerning a public matter, thus protected by the First Amendment:
The “special protection” afforded to what Westboro said, in the whole context of how and where it chose to say it, cannot be overcome by a jury finding that the picketing was “outrageous” for purposes of applying the state law tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress. That would pose too great a danger that the jury would punish Westboro for its views on matters of public concern.
Victory for free speech, and now, as they kids say, let’s stop feeding the troll.