Snyder v. Phelps


Cite as: 562 U. S. ____ (2011)
Opinion of the Court

interest; that is, a subject of general interest and of value and concern to the public,” San Diego, supra, at 83–84. See Cox Broadcasting Corp. v. Cohn, 420 U. S. 469, 492–494 (1975); Time, Inc. v. Hill, 385 U. S. 374, 387– 388 (1967). The arguably “inappropriate or controversial character of a statement is irrelevant to the question whether it deals with a matter of public concern.”  Rankin v. McPherson, 483 U. S. 378, 387 (1987).

Our opinion in Dun & Bradstreet, on the other hand, provides an example of speech of only private concern.  In that case we held, as a general matter, that information about a particular individual’s credit report “concerns no public issue.” 472 U. S., at 762.  The content of the report, we explained, “was speech solely in the individual interest of the speaker and its specific business audience.”  Ibid. That was confirmed by the fact that the particular report was sent to only five subscribers to the reporting service, who were bound not to disseminate it further.  Ibid.  To cite another example, we concluded in San Diego v. Roe that, in the context of a government employer regulating the speech of its employees, videos of an employee engaging in sexually explicit acts did not address a public concern; the videos “did nothing to inform the public about any aspect of the [employing agency’s] functioning or operation.” 543 U. S., at 84.

Deciding whether speech is of public or private concern requires us to examine the “ ‘content, form, and context’” of that speech, “ ‘as revealed by the whole record.’”  Dun & Bradstreet, supra, at 761 (quoting Connick, supra, at 147– 148). As in other First Amendment cases, the court is obligated “to ‘make an independent examination of the whole record’ in order to make sure that ‘the judgment does not constitute a forbidden intrusion on the field of free expression.’”  Bose Corp. v. Consumers Union of United States, Inc., 466 U. S. 485, 499 (1984) (quoting New York Times, supra, at 284–286).  In considering content,

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